Today Governor Scott Walker (whom my son happily continues to call “RecallWalker”) and the UW System announced a joint effort to provide competency-based online degree programs. The program will be initiated and led by UW Extension faculty and staff under Chancellor Ray Cross.
My feelings about Walker are well-known. I have a hard time believing he has the best interests of UW System at heart. That said, I don’t think this was Walker’s idea, and I don’t think his interest in it means it’s necessarily a bad idea. Here are a few reasons why:
1) Competency-based online instruction has been implemented all over the world. It aims to break the link between seat-time and credit in order to get students accessible, affordable degrees. Those are good objectives. Credit for sitting in a seat for a certain amount of time has never felt smart.
(2) The typical conservative approach to implementation is a clear effort to undermine full-time faculty –bring in an outside group reliant on adjuncts. In other states that is Western Governors University. (Ok, slight modification– WGU uses full-time contracted faculty. Not tenured. And not really faculty– they don’t instruct or grade, they “mentor” and coach.) While he may have considered it, that’s not what Walker’s done here. Smart- because if he had, the faculty and academic staff would have been rightly up in arms — me included. (Indeed, that’s what’s happening in California.) Instead, this program is led by UW Extension faculty and staff. That’s good- Cross is smart, and I am betting he brought this idea with him, perhaps even discussing it in his job interview.
(3) The focus here isn’t UW-Madison (despite some poor press tweets)– it is aimed at folks on the margin of no credential or an online credential. That’s the right demographic.
Now, here are the key questions and big things to keep an eye on:
Edited 6/20 for the parenthetical on WGU’s staffing model.