The EvoLLLution | Navigating the CBE Frontier: The University of Wisconsin Flexible Option Case Study Website
An important, and unique, aspect of the higher education environment is the collegiality of its participants. At UW-Extension, they are pulling back the curtain to provide postsecondary leaders across the world with a resource to help develop their own CBE programs.

Since fall 2015, the Navigating the CBE frontier series has provided an opportunity to answer questions based on the UW Flexible Option experience, such as: How do you develop a business plan for a competency-based model? Set enrollment and revenue targets? Support student success? Measure program success? Navigate approval processes?

While this series continues, we also launched a comprehensive resource that complements the insights we’ve shared on The EvoLLLution. The UW Flexible Option case study website, funded by Lumina Foundation, addresses the challenges, opportunities, and promise of competency-based education. We hope that this brief overview video encourages you to explore and share this new resource.

We developed the website to:

  • Provide an overview of CBE approaches
  • Highlight issues CBE could address
  • Expand on takeaways from our experiences
  • Explain our responses to challenges
  • Share resources we found helpful

Our intent is not to prescribe models or solutions for others, but to describe our choices, such as how we responded when our model didn’t easily fit the existing regulatory framework; when off-the-shelf technology systems didn’t meet our needs; and when we needed new definitions for retention and student success.

Six main content areas provide key takeaways, challenges and resources, such as the examples described below:

1. Academics:

This in-depth section covers how the UW direct assessment CBE model took shape, factors that influence UW Flex academic program offerings, and factors that impact the quality of UW Flex. Resources include an infographic on our step-by-step curriculum development process, a video and a webinar about development of a project-based business administration degree, and a video and graphics about how nursing faculty incorporated critical thinking skills into the curriculum.

2. Budget:

We explain start-up funding sources, a program revenue cost-recovery model, five factors critical to the success of our business model, and how we supported students eligible for Title IV aid before we were approved by the U.S. Department of Education to award federal financial aid. We also share a template based on our business plan.

3. Communications:

We share key objectives and messages in our communications plan, strategies to engage elected officials, the composition and role of advisory groups, an example of a UW Flexible Option marketing tool, and a template based on our communications plan.

4. Enrollment Management and Technology:

This area includes a wide range of content, including information about back-office operations. We explain the Academic Success Coach role that is central to student services, the critical leadership and technologist roles we had to fill, the transformation required from maintaining to developing IT systems, and the complexity of IT support in a large university system. Resources include a video about Academic Success Coaches and a look at the UW Flexible Option Student Engagement System.

5. Metrics:

We explain the need for new student success metrics for a non-term, direct assessment, CBE model; share our Metrics Framework; and note the needs for additional research to build on our early work on student success and retention and on directly comparing student outcomes in different modalities

6. Policy:

U.S. Department of Education and accreditors’ roles are outlined, including a video overview about the approval process for the UW Flexible Option. Challenges include the approval process for direct assessment CBE, regulatory barriers to innovation, and requirements that are loud and clear about time-based data but silent about learning outcomes.

We hope that you will explore behind the scenes of the UW Flexible Option, glean information that helps you develop your own CBE program, and provide feedback to us to improve this resource.

To access the LinkedIn article series about the UW Flexible Option, please click here.

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