Get a College Degree in Wisconsin Without Setting Foot on Campus


simpsons college

What if college diplomas certified that the person had actually learned something? That he had demonstrated mastery of material, rather than just logging the requisite number of hours sitting in a chair in a lecture hall?

That's the idea behind the University of Wisconsin's Flexible Option, which lets students who have received instruction from a variety of sources—including online providers of course material like Udacity, Coursera, or Marginal Revolution University—take tests to prove that they know their stuff. The University will issue these students a diploma that's indistinguishable from the standard sheepskin—probably at a much lower price. 

First up? Maybe Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who championed the program in his state:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has championed the idea, in part because he left college in his senior year for a job opportunity and never finished his degree. He said he hoped to use the Flexible Degree option himself.

"I think it is one more way to get your degree. I don't see it as replacing things," Mr. Walker said.

walker beer

He's right that this is a cool option, but he's wrong that it won't replace more traditional paths for some people. University of Wisconsin may have just taken the first step toward its own obsolescence—or at least radical redefinition. 

Look, it's the obligatory nervous prof quote:

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media-studies professor at the University of Virginia who has written about the future of universities, called the program a "worthy experiment" but warned that school officials "need to make sure degree plans are not watered down."

Translation: I really like my job. Please don't take it away.

This could be the first step toward disentangling the many functions colleges and universities now perform. Some people will still want the four-year combination sleepaway-camp-and-drunken-TED-conference experience that is the current standard for undergrads. But other people—especially folks who are mid-career and busy being, say, the governor of a state or working at the nuclear power plant—would rather just learn the materials and then get a respected institution's stamp of approval.

Expect to see more of this in the very near future.

NEXT: VA Exempts Legislative Aides from FOIA

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  1. The Caswell Motel will not be seized. 😀 😀 😀

    Civil forfeiture is still a thing. 🙁 🙁 🙁…..rmen_ortiz

  2. Would you hire an applicant with a degree but had never taken Intro to Basket Weaving? I didn’t think so.

  3. How can they make sure that the person getting the degree is actually the one who took the tests?

    1. Presumably they’ll have precautions, but in that same vein how do institutions currently ensure their students retain a modicom of knowledge after the term ends? They’re dissimilar problems, but both are resolved in the same way: the employer fires his incompetent, unretentive employee.

    2. Certain professional exams insist on photo IDs which are checked as you go in, and which you have to keep visible at all times. Similar security measures could be used here, just as useful as what’s used currently.

  4. Higher education badly needs to be decentralized from the style of publicly funded institutions and people with PHDs know everything crap.

    More business sponsored trade school and co-op style education would be a good thing. As it is now, its easy for students to outrun their “education” in progress with job experience they are already getting.

  5. welcome to the credentialed society. Just get the piece of paper; how it was earned is secondary.

    1. Really? In a world where Education degrees are a thing, you think this is what’s going to discredit higher education?

      1. degrees are a thing for their own sake, not for what the holder may have learned along the way. That’s what I mean by credentialed.

    2. welcome to the credentialed society

      We’re already there, so eliminating hoops to jump through is a step in the right direction.

    3. Do you think there’s a risk of credentials becoming certifications? If a government institution focuses on providing core competency credentials instead of teaching, I could see that credential becoming a standard, and that standard becoming a requirement.

  6. Online courses are a joke. I did my husband’s English 101 course in six hours total, on three glasses of wine, and got an 88 for the course.

    1. That’s probably because it was English 101, dumbass. Who the fuck even has to take English 101?

      1. Maybe she’s married to a retarded person.

        Dennis Reynolds: [after realizing he knew Dee’s new boyfriend in high school] That guy’s retarded!

        Dee Reynolds: Yeah? Well you’re retarded.

        Dennis Reynolds: No, Dee, I mean he is actually a retarded person.

        Dee Reynolds: Come on. He’s so successful and he gives me things like this necklace. I would know if he was retarded. Wouldn’t I?

      2. Who the fuck even has to take English 101?

        people entering a four-year program. You think colleges fund all those new buildings and faculty sinecures with programs aimed at teaching marketable skills? Most degree programs include at least one year, sometimes two, of what amounts to high school repeated.

        Some public schools do such a lousy job that remedial courses are a big hit, while the sharp kids pick up college credit while in high school.

        1. ^this. It doesn’t matter what you score on your placement test, if you didn’t do AP or running start in high school you’re pretty much SoL. I guess we’ll see how the more advanced courses go, but a course that basically amounts tto two essays, light reading, and Facebook style graded “discussions” seems ridiculous even for high school level..

  7. “Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media-studies professor … warned that school officials “need to make sure degree plans are not watered down.”

    Uhh, you’re too late.

  8. Allowing higher education to destroy itself through its own internal contradictions, huh? Sounds familiar.

    1. So you’re saying education policy should be a mixture of containment and roll-back?

      1. Dammit, Hugh, there’s only one good option and it’s escalation!

        1. Most smarter!!!

  9. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s public university professors are demonstrating in Harrisburg for ever higher wages and benefits. Time to tell them they can be replaced by a computer screen.

  10. Isn’t this basically what Western Governors University is already doing?

    At WGU, you earn your degree based on what you’ve learned, not how long you’ve sat in a classroom. We call it competency-based education, and it means you spend your time focused on what you need to learn, not rehashing things you already know.

    With competency-based education, your previous college and work experience means you could accelerate your program, saving time and money.

    WGU uses the same test/certification approach as the University of Wisconsin’s Flexible Option. On a side note, Mitch Daniels (now president at Purdue) was one of the founding governors behind WGU.

  11. As a student and senior at a Community College I find this interesting. I enlisted in the Navy after High School and didn’t start my collegiate career until I was 25. I chose a community college, St. Petersburg College in Florida, because the tuition was cheaper than the big Universities and the courses are a mirror copy. I think the undergraduate will be transformed to be more skilled based but the grad school level will remain the place for theoretical concepts to flourish. As someone who aspires to be an educator at the college level I find this to be an interesting time for the world of academia.

  12. Homer Simpson is da bomb dude, way cool!

  13. It seems to me there are three main reasons to go to college:

    1) Learn.

    2) Gain a core competency credential.

    3) Gain an institutional credential.

    This proposal would give a degree holder the second and, as promoted, the third, with the first done on their own.

    But I’m not convinced the third would necessarily apply. The institutional credential is really a reputation credential stemming from university admission (still present in the proposal), graduate quality (possibly present, if core competency holds up), and teaching quality (not present in the proposal). I guess it will be interesting to see what employers actually value in the current college degree and whether or not those properties or signals can be separated from the others college offers.

  14. I really like my job. Please don’t take it away.
    You really should do some Googling before saying stuff like this. Vaidhyanathan is likely to be one of the professors who will get lots more work once this online education style really takes off.
    Besides, he’s been arguing Reason’s side on copyright for years. Try just

    Note also that he was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. FWIW.

    1. That’s probably true in his case, but he generally argues that these digital resources are merely tools for teachers, not replacements, and I think that’s what KMW was referring to.

  15. Look, it’s the obligatory nervous prof quote:

    Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media-studies professor at the University of Virginia who has written about the future of universities, called the program a “worthy experiment” but warned that school officials “need to make sure degree plans are not watered down.”

    Translation: I really like my job. Please don’t take it away.

    Fuck you, Katherine. Seriously, you need to stop with this shit. You can advocate for online education without being the frothing-at-the-mouth polemics against brick-and-mortar schools. As has been pointed out time and time again, most recently by Geoff Nathan 7:24 PM, you have no fucking clue about what you are talking about. So you just embarrass yourself when you do the “snarky, new media journalist” act and thumb your nose at those who rightly point out that the Internet and tech are no panacea. Remember the One Laptop per Child boondoggle, Katherine?

    I’m not some Luddite reflexively against a new technology, nor am I in any fear of my job. However, it pisses me off when folks like Ms. Mangu-Ward takes such a smug tone when predicting the death of brick-and-mortar educational institutions, when its clear that the model she wishes to replace it with is an inferior pedagogical model. Simply put, Kathrine, you don’t have the expertise to be an Education journalist.

    1. Would you say she lacks the proper credentials?

  16. I need this in melbourne, australia, can’t stand going to a public college here with all the “Marxism to challenge the system” posters lying around, i shit you not, they are everywhere.

    1. Actually there are online courses in the down under… my bad.

  17. I was going to write a nice article promoting this new program, until I saw this in the degree requirements:

    “Cultural Diversity (&): Three credits in a course relating to the study of life experiences of African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians or Asian Americans.”

    I refuse to promote an organization with such an overtly racist agenda.

  18. Wait! Wait! What about FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL?


  19. Online schools as an option are here to stay face it! Depending on a persons situation it could be one of the best advances in human development. Is it for everyone, probably not. A 20 year old that gets a college degree without ever being on campus is lacking something their education but someone that has been there and done that and now wants to advance in a career and can get the necessary credentials while balancing a full life, go for it and ignore some of the ignorance on this thread.

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