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UW System works to make college education more accessible

LA CROSSE, Wis. - One of the new programs chancellor Joe Gow highlighted in his presentation to the Board of Regents at UW-La Crosse on Thursday is what's called a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course.

It's a new online program UW-L is the first to pioneer in the state.

The Board of Regents is focusing on how to make a college education accessible to more people.

Both are promising options to open the door for more people to earn a college education.

"It's the first course of that title in the UW system and ours is a college readiness math course," said UW-L Mathematics professor Bob Hoar.

Funded by a grant, UW-L's MOOC recently graduated it's first class, teaching more 1,909 students from all over the world for free.


"The youngest age on record is 11 and the eldest is 85 and we've got every number in between represented in those 1,909 people," said Hoar.

It's an example of how the UW-System is trying to reach out to a changing student body.

"We think there's about 750,000 Wisconsin residents who have some college degrees and we're really trying to focus on them for a while as we're looking for ways to increase the number of college graduates in Wisconsin," said Board of Regents President Brent Smith.

"They're fearful of the math. They want to see, do they still have it? Can they get up to speed? This is a low risk low cost way to figure that out," said Hoar.

Another strategy the UW system is using to attract more students is a new flexible degree option that will soon be pioneered at UW-Milwaukee.

"We do an assessment on someone who wants to go into a flex degree as to what credit we can give them for past credits in school, what credit we can give them for past work experience and then we make an assessment for what they'll need to finish their degree and hopefully make available options such as online that will make it easier for them to do it," said Smith.

Both are ideas school officials hope will open doors for people in Wisconsin to finish a college degree regardless of age or background.

"The ultimate goal is to get more college graduates. One technique is going to be online or MOOC. Also, the goal is how can we do it with less cost? There is some hope that MOOCs or online education will be a way to potentially control those costs," said Smith.

While UW-L's MOOC is a great success, it is funded by grant dollars.

The university is currently working to figure out how to make it sustainable in the long term because it is a free service.

On Friday the Board of Regents will spend more time exploring flexible degree options and MOOCs.

Smith says UW-Madison is also working to start its own MOOC.

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