A New Model for Higher Education

Wisconsin has launched a new educational model that could well be emulated throughout the country.  On June 19, Governor Scott Walker, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Kelly, and UW Colleges UW-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross announced a competency-based degree model that will transform higher education in Wisconsin.  Called the UW Flexible Degree, “No state institution in the country currently offers a competency-based completion program like this.”

The model will be a godsend for low-income students and for students holding outside employment.

Highlights of it include:

“This model promises to offer a more personalized college experience to every student in which students can begin and complete courses at any time.  Competency exams can be taken from home or work to ensure flexibility and special computer software can be utilized to ensure academic honesty.”

Up until now students have had generally to conform to the standard of “seat time,” which treats students not as individuals with greater or lesser motivation, but as one monolithic entity where one size fits all.  The UW Flexible Degree model, on the contrary, will “benefit highly motivated students who are able to move through course materials at a faster pace,” and it will enable them “to quickly move closer to degree completion” rather than fall into the expensive six-year graduation timeframe that governs most students.  Presently, only 57% of college entrants graduate—for most taking six years.

The model will also “benefit working adults who need to start and pause their studies because of work and personal commitments.”

The model will further help the poor.  “By taking advantage of an array of resources and this model’s potential for accelerated time-to-completion, a college education will be more accessible to every Wisconsin citizen working toward a degree or certificate.”

The system of higher education today in Texas does a poor job of educating low-income and minority students.  They are neglected, and countless thousands of them cannot even dream of getting a college education.  Yet “blacks and Hispanics now represent half of Texas’s population.”

A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education reports that racial and economic disparities are conspicuous.  The study finds, “Huge inequities persist in Texas higher education.  Among younger adults ages 25-34, 43% of whites hold at least an associate degree, compared to 28% of blacks and only 15% Hispanics.”

What’s more, Eduardo Ochoa, assistant secretary for post-secondary education in the U. S. Department of Education, reports that presently, for grades K-12, 50% of students in Texas are Hispanic and that this percentage is growing.

Posted by: Ron Trowbridge

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