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.
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
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.
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