Is Competency-Based Higher Education The Wave Of The Future?

Next month, the University of Wisconsin will begin accepting applications for degree programs that give students three months of "all you can eat" access to online courses and allow them to earn their degrees by taking competency tests.

What's the Latest Development?


Starting next month, the University of Wisconsin will begin accepting applications for a number of degree and certificate programs that are based on the competency model: Instead of attending classes and accumulating (and paying for) a specific number of credit hours, students will pay a flat fee of $2,250 for three months of access to all of the university's online courses and materials as well as its advisors and other resources. They will then earn their degree by passing competency tests, which they can take as many times as they want. For the first rollout, spaces will be limited to 10 per degree program.

What's the Big Idea?

Wisconsin's initiative isn't the first to use a competency-based model, but it is the first to offer an actual degree or certificate. For that reason, it will be closely watched by many in higher education who are already nervous about the popularity of free online courses and the increasing need to justify the costs associated with getting a college degree the old-fashioned way. Among the challenges to using this model are quality and scalability, says Wisconsin chancellor Ray Cross: "Traditional higher education at this point is not scalable...and this has the potential to be incredibly transformative, if it is scalable."

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