Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), already well known for his efforts to curb union power, has now set out to tackle an equally big task: busting the higher education bubble.

The problem of college affordability is recognized on both sides of the aisle, but sadly, most efforts to abate the problem – such as increasing federal subsidies – have only exacerbated it. Walker wants to try a different approach for taxpayers and students in his state.

Last Tuesday, Walker released his proposal to create the University of Wisconsin Flexible Degree Program, a competency-based approach using both online learning and traditional college courses. He explained:

This unique competency-based model will allow students to start classes anytime they like, work at their own pace, and earn credit for what they already know… Students can use knowledge obtained on the job, through free open courseware, or anywhere else to quickly test out of a module or a course. A student may move ahead as soon as he or she can prove content mastery.

Obtaining a degree through the University of Wisconsin system will now be more affordable and customizable. By tapping into and giving credit for the knowledge a student has obtained outside the classroom or through another school, the Flexible Degree Program brings down the cost and the time required to graduate. If a student proves his mastery of a certain subject, he can obtain credit without taking a full class. Walker’s office notes:

Students can demonstrate college-level competencies – no matter where they learned the material – as soon as they can prove that they know it…

Rather than molding coursework around a set timeframe, these modules can be designed to contain only the knowledge required within a specific competency. This could benefit working adults who need to start and pause their studies because of work and personal commitments. It could also benefit highly motivated students who are able to move through course materials at a faster pace.

Courses in this new program will be based on competency, not seat time, so students can move on to the next topic when they have mastered the current material. Students will have broad access to high quality coursework and student services, and they can graduate as soon as they can prove their mastery of the material…

Students with extensive knowledge from the workplace, free open courseware, or other life experiences will be able to quickly move closer to degree completion by having their knowledge assessed and credited.

The classes can also be tailored to allow for a student’s busy schedule or career goals. What’s more, Walker expects the program to reach even international students, broadening the university’s student and revenue base.

Governor Walker, as was the case with his efforts to curb union influence and empower teachers, is on the cutting edge of a higher education revolution. As Heritage’s Stuart Butler notes:

In as little as a decade, most colleges and universities could look very different from their present forms – with the cost of a college credential plummeting even as the quality of instruction rises.

If this transformation does come to pass, it could have profound and beneficial implications. It could significantly increase the international competitiveness of American workers in a world in which we need higher skills and productivity to compete. It could sharply improve the employability of those on the bottom rungs of America’s income ladder, giving them the tools they need to move up. And it could do much to restore the American Dream for those who have begun to believe that opportunity in this country is disappearing. In other words, such a change could hardly come too soon.

Walker’s plan is a real solution to the problem of college affordability, cutting costs for the student and the taxpayer. The first-in-the-nation Flexible Degree Program is a great step toward giving all students their chance at the American Dream.

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