WisBusiness: Walker, UW officials unveil new online degree program
Gov. Scott Walker and UW officials announced a new online education model that backers said would be the first of its kind undertaken by a public university.
The proposal -- titled the UW Flexible Degree -- aims to allow students to either apply already acquired knowledge to state testing or take flexible, affordable online coursework through either UW campuses or other accredited universities.
"This takes a system that's already very vibrant -- that's online learning -- and really builds beyond that," Walker said Tuesday at a press conference on the UW-Madison campus, the third and last of his stops rolling out the plan.
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The guv said the proposal would particularly target adult learners -- noting that about 20 percent of the state's adults have some college coursework but no degree -- and stressed the potential impact on returning veterans.
He also noted again that businesses in the state have told him they're looking to hire but are concerned about their ability to recruit skilled workers for open jobs.
"We want to adapt to the needs that an ever-changing workforce has," Walker said.
UW System President Kevin Reilly said the state needs to increasingly target adult learners, noting the percentage of adults with a degree in Wisconsin lags the national average.
"We cannot let that trend stand," Reilly said.
He added that the state has a moral obligation to reach out to Wisconsinites that currently aren't being served by any higher education model.
Ray Cross, the chancellor of the UW Colleges and UW-Extension, said that while a great deal of work remains left to be done on the program, the UW System hopes to have some class offerings ready for this fall, with entire programs up and running within a year.
"This flexible degree program is the 21st century face of the Wisconsin Idea," Reilly declared.
Walker said heís committed to providing the resources necessary to start the program, but that a cost estimate isn't available yet.
He said the upfront costs would "almost exclusively" be used for establishing a testing system, noting that the "components are already there" for online coursework.
"We're going to do it in a way that's worthy of a University of Wisconsin degree," Walker vowed.
Walker predicted the program would ultimately be very cost-effective for campuses, enabling them to reach new types of students from all over the country and world while potentially offsetting costs to the traditional campus.
"We're ahead of the curve," Walker said.
-- By Andy Szal