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U.S. Approval for Wisconsin Competency-Based Program

September 3, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education last week granted approval to a self-paced, competency-based program from two institutions in the University of Wisconsin System, the system announced Tuesday. The associate of arts and science degree track is a form of competency-based education called direct assessment, which does not rely on the credit-hour standard. The University of Wisconsin Colleges and Extension programs are offering the degree. It's part of the system's broader competency-based offerings, which are dubbed the UW Flexible Option.

Students who enroll in the degree program will now be eligible to receive federal financial aid. Wisconsin is the third institution to receive such approval, and the first public one. The university had submitted an application to the department in January. The feds' long delay in approving another direct assessment degree had caused some confusion among backers of competency-based education. But the department later gave a boost to the emerging model of higher education through its experimental sites program, which grants waivers for colleges to experiment while retaining federal aid eligibility.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, last month wrote to Arne Duncan, the education secretary, urging the department to approve Wisconsin's application. He applauded the news this week in a written statement.

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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