A couple of weeks ago Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled a new online degree program. He and another UW official lauded the flexible degree program as one that would allow adult learners to use real world experience to fulfill degree requirements. In addition, course work would be arranged to allow for a more flexible time span instead of the traditional semester constraints.
Yippee! I'm all for flexible education. And, even though a report card recently left Wisconsin wanting, I've seen enough (and paid enough!) into higher education around this country lately to know that report card certainly didn't measure what I consider important. I think the University of Wisconsin system is a great value.
I graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2005 returning to college after a break of many years. I chose a traditional daytime approach, layered classes into Tuesdays and Thursdays for four semesters, and added a summer class and an online Winterim course. That, plus a professor who was willing to let me use an incomplete on a self-guided course the last semester to finish, meant I did it.
(Disclosure. B- in foreign relations. I couldn't get past how much dealing with nations felt like refereeing children and I'm afraid it showed when writing my exams.)
The reason I share my story is because it worked. An adult housewife packed a boatload of credits into two years and has a framed degree in Political Science on her wall. It was a lifelong goal. And if I did it, I have to say there's a really good chance the tools for adult success are already out there. I used online classes. I had access to evening classes. Do we really need to reinvent the wheel, or is there a chance this is labeling what we already have as innovation just to get the press release?
Equally frustrating is finding that no one really knows what the plan includes or when it will start. (Read Joe Tarr for another perspective. And I am also amused that one reporter laments the lack of training for certain jobs in our state but never lists those jobs and then later refers to the want for skilled welders in his piece on higher education. But then by the time I finish with this post I will have likely meandered to an equal degree.)
For the more traditional just-out-of-high-school or current high school student, the Wisconsin system offers a number of options. Now I'll offer quick disclaimer — I'm not an expert — but I have shuffled a few kids through the experience. I'll confess, not one of three took the same approach.
First, for an active learner, or even a student who just wants to get out of a planned education system as quickly as possible, Wisconsin has had something called Youth Options for ages. While this program was ideally crafted for a student to use who had maxed out of the current high school curriculum, I've watched a couple of students end high school with two years of college on a transcript all at the local school district's expense. I even saw a school board pay for a young woman's dance class. (Do not confuse this acknowledgement with my being pleased about that decision.) Also beneficial, and widely used, is the AP — Advanced Placement — classes and testing in high school. Two of mine had at least a semester on paper when they left high school for the price of about $80 a test. Finally, from what I understand (UWM, Madison, so I would assume it stretches over the UW system), testing in competency and then completing one higher class in a foreign language lets one have the credits from all of the classes necessary to get there posted retroactively. That generally saves about six credits from the college bill.
The two-year UW colleges also offer a great value in their guaranteed transfer programs. I've known three students to use this approach, and they saved a lot of money from that decision. A traditional college experience is about as common as a non-traditional approach these days. It really pays for students to consider the options their freshman year in high school and plan ahead. That doesn't mean hit it hard or scare a student into an academic hell, but it does suggest high school counselors need to do more than frighten a student into more science or they won't get into college. (Yes, I have a story, but you will be spared.)
OK, why am I babbling on about this? College is really expensive. Stupidly expensive. Unreasonably expensive. We've been talking about it on Fairly Conservative for years. With a little planning even the average high school student can finish a four year degree in only two after high school.
(And with that I'll confess I'm not sure how I feel about it all. Perhaps to a fault, I've warned my children over the years that one is expected to be an adult for a long time once you hit a certain age. If we are teaching college in high school and high school in middle school, does a kid get enough time to play?)
Back to the point: if you want a college degree, there is in my experience no better location than the state of Wisconsin, no matter your age, to make that happen. It can be done frugally. It can be done outside of a traditional approach. And you don't have to wait around for the politicians to change anything. It's there for you now.