The University of Wisconsin-Madison has worked hard to maintain its status as a highly rated educational institution, recently placing 10th among U.S. public universities in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. At the same time, we are working just as hard to become a more accessible educational institution that offers multiple types of educational opportunities.
Most people think of UW-Madison as a traditional residential school, where students live and study in Madison. This is clearly our primary business model, and one at which we have excelled for decades. But the world of higher education is changing and the demand by nontraditional students is growing. Diversifying our offerings by adding some options that follow a different model makes sense.
To open our doors to new categories of students, departments across the university have increased their offerings for nontraditional students. These are often busy professionals with adult responsibilities who can’t put their lives on hold to enroll as full-time residential students. To effectively advance their careers, they require educational options that offer maximum quality and convenience.
We’ve encouraged academic departments to think creatively about such programs, with tremendous success. In 2015, UW-Madison launched AdvanceYourCareer.wisc.edu to showcase our growing menu of online, hybrid, accelerated, and evening/weekend programs.
Our flexible credit-bearing programs currently include 30 advanced degrees, 20 capstone certificates, and a bachelor’s degree, all of which allow professionals to earn additional credentials without interrupting their careers. Students can work toward a master of science in biotechnology by attending weekend and evening classes; a bachelor of science in nursing by combining online and face-to-face classes; and a master of engineering in engine systems by working entirely online. Among the accelerated programs is the capstone certificate program in actuarial science, which students can complete in as little as nine months.
Since 2005, we’ve added 33 of these credit-bearing programs. Enrollment has increased from 188 to more than 1,800, boosting revenue for the university and filling workforce development needs for the state. As we introduce more options in the coming years, enrollments will continue to grow.
Our 36 flexible noncredit programs offer professional development in agriculture, business, education, engineering, and other fields. They are shorter and more skills-based than credit-bearing programs that lead to a degree. The business Spanish certificate program, for example, requires two online courses that students can finish in six months. The laser welding certificate program involves two face-to-face courses that take only five days.
Both the credit and noncredit programs leverage UW-Madison’s strengths in a wide range of fields. Though they emphasize flexibility, they don’t skimp on academic rigor. Students learn from the same innovative UW-Madison faculty and instructors who teach our traditional residential students. They also benefit from our extensive alumni network, which provides support for Badgers in all careers.
In a 2014-2018 strategic plan, the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment recommended that Wisconsin institutions of higher education improve access to degree programs in high-demand fields like manufacturing, health care, and information technology. The adult-friendly programs on AdvanceYourCareer.wisc.edu align with that effort, addressing employer needs with the pilot plant certificate, the nurse educator certificate, and the professional master’s in computer sciences, among others. We designed the capstone certificate in computer sciences specifically for the workforce needs of Epic, the locally based health care software company.
We continue to expand our menu of flexible degree and certificate programs for adult learners, and we anticipate strong growth over the next four years. For 2016-17, we’ve added the Foundations of Professional Development capstone certificate, which provides a complete management toolkit for well-rounded professionals in a wide range of careers; and the professional master’s of geographic information systems and web map programming, which keeps students up to date with current technology in this growing field. For 2017-18, we’re adding the accelerated undergraduate degree in nursing, a 12-month program for students who already have a degree in a different discipline.
With these and other new programs, departments are thinking entrepreneurially to serve our state’s population. It’s important to emphasize that a primary requirement for these new programs is that they fit with the educational mission and skills inside the departments that offer them. That’s important, in order to deliver these nontraditional courses at as high a level of quality as we deliver our more traditional residential classes.
Education is changing rapidly, and UW-Madison is leading the charge by developing ever more accessible ways for adults to participate. Just as much as our cutting-edge research, our outreach to the state’s workforce fuels the economy. These flexible programs provide lifelong learners with new job skills and create a whole new group of Badger alumni.