Frequently Asked Questions | UW Flexible Option

UW Flexible Option

The UW Flexible Option is a smart new way for working adults to earn a respected degree or certificate.  Find answers to common questions about the Flexible Option below.

General
What is the UW Flexible Option?

A partnership between University of Wisconsin System campuses and UW-Extension, the new and innovative UW Flexible Option offers a more personalized, convenient, and affordable way for adults and other nontraditional students to earn a University of Wisconsin degree or certificate while balancing work, family, and other commitments.

The UW Flexible Option includes self-paced, competency-based degree and certificate programs that allow you to make progress by demonstrating what you know, whether that knowledge was gained through prior coursework, military training, on-the-job training, or other learning experiences. By emphasizing what you know rather than how much time you spend learning, the Flexible Option lets you advance toward a UW degree at a pace you set.

Rather than create courses, expert faculty from University of Wisconsin System campuses identify competencies—skills and knowledge—that they consider necessary to earn a UW degree. You make progress by mastering these competencies and passing assessments that demonstrate your mastery. Along the way, you may draw upon existing knowledge to complete assessments at your own pace, whenever you are ready. As you prepare for assessments, you will learn and receive support from a variety of sources, including a dedicated mentor called an Academic Success Coach.

UW-Milwaukee and UW Colleges are the first UW institutions to offer programs in the new Flexible Option format. Several other UW System institutions, including UW-Parkside, are working to offer UW Flex options for their degree programs in the future.

How is the UW Flexible Option different from traditional UW degree programs?

The UW Flexible Option offers a new way to earn a college degree, different from both face-to-face classroom instruction and traditional online instruction. In a UW Flexible Option program, you will:

  • Earn credit for what you know. You may draw upon your existing knowledge to complete assessments and make progress toward your degree. It does not matter where you gained your knowledge—from prior courses, work experience, military training, or other learning experiences. If you know it and can show it, you can use it to earn credit.
  • Advance at your own pace. Progress toward your degree is based on assessments of key competencies determined by UW faculty, not seat time in a classroom. Take assessments whenever you are ready. Pass one and move on to the next.
  • Receive personalized support. A dedicated Academic Success Coach will work with you to create your learning plan and a timeline tailored to fit your goals and knowledge. Your coach will help you prepare for assessments and point you to the learning resources you need to succeed.
  • Start when you want, at the beginning of any month. Your progress is not limited by a traditional semester or term-based schedule, and you can take breaks in between subscription periods if and when you need to.
  • Learn skills employers value. By passing assessments of critical competencies, you will prove your mastery of the skills and knowledge that are important to employers.

Best of all, you will graduate with a degree from a University of Wisconsin institution that is recognized and respected.

If you are ready to find out if the UW Flexible Option is the right fit for you, then we encourage you to take the Flex Fit self-evaluation.

How will I benefit from the UW Flexible Option?

The UW Flexible Option is designed to make higher education more accessible and affordable while maintaining the same high standards as UW degrees earned through traditional classroom learning or online instruction. You will:

  • Have the flexibility to earn a genuine University of Wisconsin degree on your schedule, while balancing work, family, and other responsibilities.
  • Be free to take advantage of open educational resources available online and elsewhere.
  • Master critical competencies and demonstrate your knowledge through robust, reliable assessments.
  • Focus on just the materials you need to master. You will not waste time or money sitting through courses you don’t need.
  • Be held to the same rigorous standards that apply to all UW degrees.

If you are ready to find out if the UW Flexible Option is the right fit for you, then we encourage you to take the Flex Fit self-evaluation.

Which degrees are offered in the new UW Flexible Option format?

UW-Milwaukee and UW Colleges are the first UW institutions to offer programs in the new Flexible Option format.

UW-Milwaukee offers three degree programs and one certificate program:

UW Colleges, the UW System network of 13 two-year campuses, offers Associate of Arts and Science degrees in the Flexible Option format. You can complete competencies and assessments in biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, engineering, physics, psychology, health, exercise science and athletics, women’s studies, business, political science, philosophy, English, Spanish, geography, anthropology and sociology, history, art, and music.

Several other UW System institutions, including UW-Parkside, are working to offer UW Flex options for their degree programs in the future.

If you are ready to find out if the UW Flexible Option is the right fit for you, then we encourage you to take the Flex Fit self-evaluation.

How are UW Flexible Option degree programs developed?

To maintain rigorous academic standards, faculty from UW System campuses oversee all aspects of the Flexible Option program. Experienced faculty from across the UW System identify competency (knowledge and skill) requirements for degree and certificate programs and develop assessments that you will pass to demonstrate your mastery of these competencies. Degrees and certificates are granted by the accredited campuses already offering traditional UW degrees, making the UW Flexible Option a viable and valuable new way to earn credentials from top-notch UW institutions.

Is the UW Flexible Option offered completely online?

Most programs are offered online. However, some programs include hands-on or clinical assessments and experiences that require interactions in work and clinical settings. Your admissions specialist will talk with you about these requirements before you apply to the program.

What are assessments and how do they work?

Assessments—the tests, projects, and other activities used to measure your knowledge—are developed by UW faculty, who draw upon the latest standards in business and industry, to best capture the competencies that define UW degrees. Some assessments are based on tests and papers used in traditional classroom formats. Others require a portfolio assessment. Still others require observations of clinical demonstrations and other experiences. Once you pass an assessment, you will be able to directly and reliably demonstrate what you know to employers and others seeking your skills.

Does this mean I can earn my degree simply by mastering the competencies specific to my area of study?

Like any degree program, students enrolled in Flexible Option programs must fulfill certain requirements to graduate. This includes meeting the General Education Requirements and any elective requirements specific to each degree, as well as completing the unique competency sets that define each program. General Education Requirements may be satisfied either by transferring eligible credit from another college or program, or by completing the competencies and assessments via the flexible Associate of Arts & Science program offered by UW Colleges.

Can I complete some Flexible Option competencies and assessments while enrolled at a campus?

If you are currently enrolled at either UW Colleges or UW-Milwaukee and you want to switch to a UW Flexible Option program, please contact Student Services to discuss your next steps.

How long will it take to graduate?

The UW Flexible Option is self-paced, so you can start and make progress based on your unique knowledge, needs, and schedule. How soon you will graduate depends on a number of factors, such as your previous coursework, your prior knowledge or experience with the subject matter, and the time and effort you put in to master competencies and complete assessments.

What kinds of academic support services are available?

You will be assigned an Academic Success Coach for personalized mentoring and advising. Your coach will work with you to create a learning plan and timeline customized to fit your goals and existing knowledge. He or she will also help you prepare for assessments and point you to the learning resources you need to succeed. These resources can include textbooks and a variety of online resources—as well as courses, structured internships, service projects, and work and practical experiences.

Your coach will help you in other ways, too: with registration, understanding tuition, applying for financial aid, keeping track of important dates and deadlines, and preparing for graduation.

Who should choose the UW Flexible Option?

The UW Flexible Option is especially designed for self-motivated nontraditional students who want their previous schooling, work skills, and prior knowledge to apply toward degrees or certificates. The competency-based and self-paced format of the UW Flexible Option fits the schedules of students who must balance work and family responsibilities with educational goals. Since most Flexible Option competencies and assessments are delivered online, students have the opportunity to learn when and where they choose.

If you are ready to find out if the UW Flexible Option is the right fit for you, then we encourage you to take the Flex Fit self-evaluation.

Will employers value degrees earned through the UW Flexible Option?

UW faculty draw upon the latest standards in business and industry to identify the competencies required of graduates and the assessments that measure student learning. This ensures that UW Flexible Option students graduate with the skills and knowledge employers want—and that degrees earned through the Flexible Option are valued just as highly as degrees earned through traditional means.

Are programs offered in the UW Flexible Option format accredited?

hlc-accred-logo.originalYes. Like other University of Wisconsin degree programs, the competency-based Flexible Option degree programs of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and University of Wisconsin Colleges are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges & Schools.

Admission & Application
What are the admission requirements?

As with other University of Wisconsin degree programs, students must meet certain criteria to be accepted into a UW Flexible Option program. When you apply, our admissions staff will consider such factors as your academic history and readiness, the rigor and breadth of the curriculum, your intended major, relevant work experience, and your potential for success.

What is a subscription period?

A subscription period is a three-month span of time during which you are able to access learning materials, complete assessments, and receive academic support. You can choose from two subscription options: an “all-you-can-learn” option that allows you to master as many competency (skill) sets and pass as many assessments as you can for the three-month period, or a “single competency-set” option that allows you to study at a slower pace. Unlike traditional programs on semester- or term-based schedules, the UW Flexible Option does not require you to take time off for holidays or between subscription periods—you can continue to study and advance as much and as quickly as you like. As your current subscription period nears its end, you may subscribe to the next one without interrupting your studies. For more information, see our Tuition & Financial Aid page.

When do subscription periods begin?

UW Flexible Option subscription periods begin on the second day of every month, except for holidays.

A limited number of students will be accepted for each subscription period, so we encourage you to apply early to ensure that all documents are submitted and received by the deadline. For more information, see our Admission page.

How do I apply for admission? Does it cost anything to apply?

Before applying for admission to a UW Flexible Option program, you will be asked to complete a “Flex Fit” self-evaluation. This two-part online survey is designed to help you and a UW Flexible Option Admission Specialist determine whether the Flexible Option is the right fit for you. There is no cost for taking the Flex Fit. Once you complete the survey, you will have the option to talk with a Flexible Option Admission Specialist about your next steps.

(Note: If you are currently enrolled at either UW Colleges or UW-Milwaukee and you want to switch to a UW Flexible Option program, we will ask you to complete the Flex Fit self-evaluation and a Flex Admission Specialist will contact you to discuss next steps.)

If the UW Flexible Option is right for you, your next step will be to formally apply. Your Flex Admission Specialist will guide you through that process and inform you of what documents you will need to provide, such as transcripts from other schools. A $44 nonrefundable application fee is required to apply to a Flexible Option program. (If the last campus you attended was one of the UW Colleges, then no application fee is required.)

For more information, see our Admission page.

How long will it take to process my application?

We will begin to review your application as soon as we receive all of your required materials, and we will update you with the status of your application as quickly as possible.

Where can I find forms related to my admission application?
Credit Transfer
Do credits earned from other colleges or universities count toward a UW Flexible Option degree?

Just like any other UW degree program, transfer credit is awarded for previously completed college-level coursework that is similar in nature, level, and content to a course in the UW Colleges or UW-Milwaukee undergraduate curriculum, and applicable to an academic program. Prior coursework is valued, and we will make every effort to award as much credit as possible. For more information please see our Admission page.

I took courses in college but it was a long time ago. Will they still count?

We will be happy to evaluate your previous coursework for transfer credit. Your Academic Success Coach will help you understand how your coursework will apply to your degree plan, and he or she will also help you choose the path that is best for you.

Please note that some course credits may become “outdated” as technology, teaching methods, and research change. If it has been several years since you completed a course, you might be asked to refresh your knowledge of that subject area to prepare for future study.

Does work experience count for credit?

Work experience does not directly count for credit. However, you might find that the knowledge gained through work experiences allows you to complete assessments without further study. As soon as you pass an assessment, you can move on to the next competency and assessment required for your degree.

Do open online courses from other universities count for credit?

Open online courses and MOOCs do not directly count for credit. However, if you have taken open online courses relevant to your UW Flexible Option degree or certificate program, you are free to test your knowledge by taking Flexible Option assessments that do count for credit. You may also take advantage of open online courses to learn and master new competencies necessary to complete your degree or certificate. With the self-paced Flexible Option format, you can move ahead as soon as you pass an assessment, regardless of where you gained your knowledge—from open online courses, on the job, or elsewhere.

Do credits earned through the UW Flexible Option transfer to other universities?

UW Flexible Option credits transfer in the same way as credits earned through traditional courses. As with credits earned through traditional degree programs, the school receiving your credits will decide which credits will transfer and which will count toward degree requirements. In any situation where you would like to transfer credits from one university to another, it is important to check with the school to which you want to transfer first for guidance about degree requirements and transfer policies.

I have a significant number of transfer credits. What is the minimum number of credits I need to complete within a Flexible Option program? 

Most University of Wisconsin System campuses require students to complete a specific number of credits “in residence” to earn a degree. (“Resident credits” are credits earned at the campus granting the degree.) Transfer students are responsible for fulfilling these residency requirements.

UW-Milwaukee’s resident credit policy

Transfer students must complete at least 30 credits with UWM, even if this brings the total number of earned credits beyond the total number of credits required for the degree. For example, if you enter a Flexible Option program with 100 transferable credits, you must complete 30 credits with UWM to receive the bachelor’s degree (even though normally the degree requires 120 credits).

UW Colleges Associate of Arts and Science degree resident credit policy

A minimum of 60 credits is required to earn this degree. When completing these 60 credits, students must satisfy one of the following: At least 36 of the 60 credits must be earned in the UW Colleges, or at least 12 of the final 24 credits must be earned in the UW Colleges.

Tuition & Financial Aid
How much is tuition for the UW Flexible Option?

The UW Flexible Option tuition is based on “subscription periods”—three-month spans of time during which you are able to access learning materials, complete assessments, and receive academic support. You can choose from two subscription choices, each with a different tuition.

  • All-You-Can-Learn Option: Choosing this option allows you to complete as many competencies and assessments as you can within a three-month subscription period for a flat tuition rate of $2,250.
  • Single Competency-Set Option: If you would like to study at a slower pace during a three-month subscription period, you may enroll in a single competency set. As with the All-You-Can-Learn Option, you must successfully demonstrate mastery of each competency in the set through a series of assessments. The tuition for this “one-set-per-subscription-period” model is $900.

Tuition covers assessments and mentoring, but excludes the cost of books and other special materials that may be required for your program.

For more information, see our Tuition & Financial Aid page.

Are scholarships available?

At this time, scholarships are not available specifically for the UW Flexible Option. However, scholarships that are available at UW-Milwaukee and UW Colleges might be available to Flexible Option students. For more information, please check with the financial aid office at your institution of choice.

Glossary
What does “self-paced” mean?

Self-paced means that you can start and complete competencies and assessments at a pace you set, based on your knowledge, needs, schedule, and effort. Your learning is not tied to the pace of other students. You do not have to wait for the beginning of a traditional semester to start your education, and you can take assessments whenever you are ready.

What is an assessment?

Assessments are the tests, projects, and other activities used to measure your knowledge. Some assessments are based on tests and papers used by students in traditional classroom formats. Others may require a portfolio assessment. Still others may require observations of actual projects or experiences. Once you pass an assessment, you will be able to directly and reliably demonstrate what you know to employers and others seeking your skills.

What is a subscription period?

A subscription period is a three-month span of time during which you are able to access learning materials, complete assessments, and receive academic support. You can choose from two subscription options: an “all-you-can-learn” option that allows you to master as many competency (skill) sets and pass as many assessments as you can for the three-month period, or a “single competency-set” option that allows you to study at a slower pace. As your current subscription period nears its end, you may subscribe to the next one without interrupting your studies.

What is a competency?

Competencies define the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors you are expected to master. In other words, they are learning outcomes—the things you need to know and be able to do.

Unlike traditional degree programs that measure progress based on class time or credit hours, the UW Flexible Option measures progress based on the completion of assessments that prove your mastery of key skills and knowledge. This enables you to advance at your own pace. As soon as you have mastered a competency and passed an assessment, you can move on to the next competency and assessment.

What is a competency set?

A “competency set” is a grouping of competencies that together define the skills and knowledge in an education area. The set of competencies that identify leadership skills, for example.

For more information:

To find out more about the UW Flexible Option, please call 1-877-895-3276 to speak with a student outreach specialist. If you are ready to take the next step and find out if this self-paced, competency-based educational format is the right fit for you, then we encourage you to take the Flex Fit self-evaluation.