Kevin Reilly on the new flex degree option
Anchor Frederica Freyburg sits down with University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly to go over the new flexible degree program UW will offer starting next fall.
Frederica Freyberg: While some young people are known to make a career out of going to college. Now comes UW System program for people interested in turning career hours into a college degree. It's called the Flex Option program. It allows working adult students to show proficiency in a course of study through a test and then qualify for college credits toward a diploma. I asked system president Kevin Reilly how it works. Kevin Reilly: Well, the UW Flex Option is a program whereby people will be able to bring learning from whatever source they took it from and apply it toward an University of Wisconsin degree. So where you learned what you learned is no longer important. It's how you can demonstrate, through a variety of assessments that our faculty will create, what you've learned. Frederica Freyberg: And so you could have just read books on your own? Kevin Reilly: You could have. And, you know, we've always had independent study courses, of course, in the University. What's really new is the ability for a student to package all that up into a full degree program. Frederica Freyberg: What kinds of degrees are being offered first? Kevin Reilly: Well, initially we just announced UW-Milwaukee will be offering a Baccalaureate degree and a Master's degree in nursing. They'll be offering a Bachelor's degree in diagnostic imaging. Health care is one of the areas where we need more credentialed people. UW-Milwaukee will also offer a Bachelor's degree in information sciences. This is the new sciences that underwrite all the digital activity that all kinds of organizations are involved in now. We'll have professional technical writing certificates that will be earned this way. Frederica Freyberg: And why are these the programs that are being offered first? Kevin Reilly: Well, we asked our faculty, we invited our faculty across the system to step forward, those who were interested, and those faculty at UW-Milwaukee were the first to step forward. Faculty at UW-Parkside have expressed interest. Faculty at UW-Madison have expressed interest. This is just the first wave. Frederica Freyberg: Is this-- are these degrees, though, where employers need the employees? Kevin Reilly: Yes. Health care, and then again this one on information sciences, it's really aimed at the skills that we all need in the digital age, to operate computers, to understand the management of information, categorization of it. So very much so. Frederica Freyberg: And you just announced this and already you've seen a lot of interest? Kevin Reilly: There's a lot of interest. There are 750,000 or so Wisconsinites who have some college credit and no degree and many of them feel, rightly, they need a degree to be professionally competitive. And these programs will help them get there. Frederica Freyberg: And does the person who signs up for this have to have had some college? Kevin Reilly: No. You wouldn't have to. You could come in and start from the beginning. I think it's likely given the nature of these programs that we will have the vast, vast majority of people be older, be people who have had some college credit, may be in the workforce now. Frederica Freyberg: So we talk about how it's, kind of, this process of tests, assessments, to see how much you know. But let's say you don't pass one of those assessments. Then how does it work? What do you do? You take an online course? Kevin Reilly: Then you can go back, and in way you want, an online course, read books, bone up, and came back and take the assessment again. That's another interesting thing this does. It turns that failure feeling into, well, I just haven't learned enough yet. Frederica Freyberg: But say you want to go into one of these degree programs that's being offered out of UW-Milwaukee. Does an adviser there say, well, to get this competency, to pass this next test, you need to take this course or this is being offered there, or how does that work? Kevin Reilly: Yes. We will have advisers to assist the students in these programs, and the role of those advisers is very, very important. For the students who feel they need that help, to point them to the resources, where ever they are, that would help them pass that next level assessment. Frederica Freyberg: But those resources don't have to be within the University of Wisconsin system? Kevin Reilly: They do not. This is what we might call an open architecture degree idea, so that we recognize that the University is not the source of all information and all knowledge. We have lots of sources of that in the society now, and students can tap in wherever they feel they can learn what they need to know. Frederica Freyberg: And how much would this cost someone if they were going for a degree? Kevin Reilly: Yeah. Well, the interesting thing about this is that unlike our usual paradigm where we charge a certain amount a semester, a certain amount a year for all students, how much you'll have to pay here depends on what you bring to the program. So it's much more student-oriented. If you can demonstrate that you've got a lot of knowledge toward a specific set of requirements in a degree program, you'll pay for some assessments, but you won't have to pay to take all the courses you would if you didn't bring that knowledge. So it's really going to be individually pegged to the student. Frederica Freyberg: Can people get advanced degrees this way? Kevin Reilly: The nursing-- one of the nursing programs at UW-Milwaukee, will be a Master's degree, yes. Frederica Freyberg: And are Flex degree diplomas the same as a bricks and mortar? I mean, I'm feeling kind of bitter, right, because I went to the university for four years, and I paid for those four years and got my degree in hand. Kevin Reilly: Right. Right. Frederica Freyberg: Is this kind of Flex degree going to hold the same cache that my diploma does? Kevin Reilly: Let me say, this degree will not be for everybody. There will still be lots of 18-year-olds who want to come to a campus and live there for four or five years, and get a degree. And that’s great. That will go on. But this provides another option for other kinds of students. Yes, it will have the same cache. Why do I say that? Because it will be the same faculty developing and grading the assessments that do it for our traditional students. The faculty will be the guarantors of quality. Frederica Freyberg: And you are hoping, presumably at some point, that this goes system-wide. Kevin Reilly: Yes. We have right now UW-Milwaukee and UW Colleges involved. We have UW-Parkside saying they want to come next. So I hope, in the long run, we'll have all of our campuses offering programs, and we'll monitor so that we don't have unnecessary duplication as we do that. Frederica Freyberg: All right. Kevin Reilly, thanks very much. Kevin Reilly: Thanks. Great to be with you.