UW Colleges’ UW Flexible Option degree program receives federal approval for student financial aid

By UW Colleges

The United States Department of Education has approved UW Colleges’ application to award federal financial aid on the basis of non-term direct assessment for its Associate of Arts and Science (AAS) degree offered in the UW Flexible Option program. This makes the UW System the first public higher education system in the country authorized to award federal financial aid to students enrolled in competency-based education.

“Receiving federal financial aid is a tremendous accomplishment for UW Colleges and UW-Extension, which have been early adopters and national leaders in competency-based education,” said Aaron Brower, interim chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension. “Flex is truly innovative and what the state needs to open new talent pathways for people across the state and nation.”

UW Colleges’ Flexible Option, in partnership with UW-Extension, is a personalized program that allows students to earn credit for what they have learned throughout their lives, whether that’s prior coursework, on-the-job training or military training. Students progress at their own pace to master the learning outcomes (“competencies”) for an Associate of Arts and Science (AAS) degree.

The division of Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning (CEOEL) in UW-Extension provides student and program support for the UW Flexible Option. “The tremendous dedication and hard work of the entire CEOEL team has been absolutely essential in the development of the Flexible Option,” said David Schejbal, dean of Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning. “It is one example of how UW-Extension works across the state to develop new paths of access to higher education for all Wisconsin residents.”

 “Through hands-on, real-world projects, our instructors provide UW Colleges’ Flexible Option students access to a high quality education that has academic integrity for which the UW Colleges is known,” said Greg Lampe, provost and vice chancellor of UW Colleges. “Our world class faculty and instructional academic staff members and our student affairs staff members continue to forge a significant path in innovative higher education practices.”

UW Colleges students in the UW Flexible Option program can complete competencies in biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, engineering, physics, psychology, health, exercise science and athletics, women’s studies, business, political science, philosophy, English, Spanish, geography, anthropology and sociology, history, art and music.

“Flexible Option programs are designed to meet areas of strong student demand, economic growth and workforce needs,” said Brower. “UW Flex is the embodiment of both the Wisconsin Idea and the Talent Development Initiative, proposed by UW System President Ray Cross, expanding the pathways for individuals to be successful in this 21st century talent-based economy.”  

Competencies are achieved by demonstrating mastery. For example, students studying public speaking submit recordings of their own speeches given before an audience. UW Colleges faculty then review the speeches to determine whether or not they have successfully mastered the public speaking outcomes. Academic Success Coaches provide intensive personalized advising and tutoring, pointing students to the learning resources needed to succeed.

“This financial aid approval is validation of the hard work, passion and persistence of our pioneering faculty and staff,” said Brower. “Their leadership and contributions are what make UW Colleges and UW-Extension so important to Wisconsin and the nation.”

Additional information is included in the UW System news release.


UW Flex is a competency-based program that allows students to earn a UW degree or certificate by taking assessments that measure knowledge and skills acquired through various means, such as on-the-job experiences and military training. The first University of Wisconsin institutions to offer programs in the UW Flex format are the UW Colleges, which offers an Associate of Arts and Science degree, and UW-Milwaukee, which offers three degree programs and one certificate. Information is available on the Flexible Option website.


Sandra Kallio