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The National University System has purchased technology from UniversityNow, a venture that had worked to create online, competency-based programs and that operates Patten University. The California-based system, a nonprofit that enrolls roughly 35,000 students, will use UniversityNow's platform to create self-paced (but not strictly competency-based) online degree programs with annual tuition rates of $8,500. The system did not disclose the purchase price of the deal with UNow.

Dubbed FlexCourse, the system's new platform will offer several degrees -- an M.B.A., bachelor's degrees, an associate of arts in general studies -- through its John F. Kennedy University.

Michael Cunningham, chancellor of the National University System, said in an interview that JFK University plans eventually to use FlexCourse in all of its offerings. And he anticipates that it will be able to bring tuition in those programs down farther, perhaps to $5,000 per year, in part because the platform is designed to recruit and assess students at relatively low cost.

National is conducting a $20 million project to design general education courses for adult students that combine adaptive courseware, predictive analytics and competency-based learning. Through its Precision Institute, the university is sharing what it learns and develops in the experiment.