Yesterday the Governor’s office released plans for a new flexible degree program from the University of Wisconsin. The initiative is in its infancy and hence light on details, but the basic premise is strong: Wisconsin needs a better-educated populace to compete in the modern economy.
U.S. census data shows that 27 states have a higher percentage of residents with college degrees than Wisconsin. Middle of the pack in education attainment might have been ok thirty years ago, but today our middling position is a barrier to attracting businesses that demand a highly educated workforce.
A college diploma does not guarantee employment, as thousands of new graduates are learning. However, it is a basic credential that gets you in the door. Walker’s plan provides a flexible path for more students to get that credential.
According to the governor’s office “more than one-fifth of all Wisconsin adults have some higher education credits, but no degree.” This statistic does not surprise me. As an instructor at UW-Milwaukee, I have come across numerous smart, capable students that were unable to complete their coursework because of work and family commitments. Often these students were first generation college attendees.
It is particularly cruel to make a student choose between improving themselves through education and helping to provide for the basic needs of their families. I am hopeful this new program will prevent ambitious busy students from having to make that choice.
Specifically, the new initiative allows students to demonstrate specific competencies at their own pace in a structured program that leads to a University of Wisconsin degree. Though I am admittedly partial to face-to-face learning and the overall university experience, qualified students whose circumstances prevent such an experience should have a path to a credible degree based on their knowledge and skills.
The UW Flexible Degree concept seems like a no-brainer. It is a way to improve Wisconsin’s economy, and more importantly, a path to greater opportunity for thousands of Wisconsin residents.