MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System announced today that it will receive a $1.2-million grant from Lumina Foundation. The grant will assist with evaluation of the UW Flexible Option, the UW System’s new competency-based credentialing model, and also provide support for developing a blueprint for other universities to build similar programs.

The UW Flexible Option is a new and innovative way to make UW degree and certificate programs more accessible, convenient, and affordable for adult and nontraditional students. It includes self-paced, competency-based degree and certificate programs that allow students to make progress by demonstrating what they know, whether that knowledge was gained through prior coursework, military training, on-the-job training, or other learning experiences.

The UW Flexible Option will help increase college attainment among Wisconsin residents by serving non-traditional adult students who have some college but no degree, and whose educational needs are not being met by traditional residential or online programs.

UW System’s new model aligns with Lumina Foundation’s goal of increasing the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality college degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025.

The grant project, Competency-based Higher Education: A Blueprint for Success, will comprehensively chronicle and qualitatively analyze the development of the UW Flexible Option. The UW System will use Lumina funding to produce an integrated set of blueprints that may be used by other universities working to develop similar competency-based delivery programs.

“The UW Flexible Option has enjoyed a high profile since it was announced in summer 2012, and the reason is that the UW System is the only public university in the country mounting a competency-based program at the system level. The potential impact is huge – affecting degree completion and policy changes at the national level, and pioneering a whole new way of delivering degree and certificate programs. Lumina took notice and we are grateful for the Foundation’s generous support,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly.

“The Lumina grant will allow us to analyze the UW Flexible Option as it’s evolving and to modify it as needed, so other university systems around the country can benefit from what we’re learning,” said Ray Cross, Chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension.

“One of the most significant outcomes of this project will be an entirely new way to measure student success,” said UW System Senior Vice President Mark Nook, one of the principal investigators for the project. “Success for working adults who choose competency-based education for professional advancement may be very different from the ways we measure success for students who enroll in a traditional university setting. These groundbreaking new metrics will be of value to our higher-education peers across the country, both in the educational delivery and the policy arenas.”

The UW System has received previous Lumina funding to support its college completion agenda, including for the expansion of prior learning assessment for adult students and for Project “Win-Win,” another strategy to grow the number of people with college degrees.

The UW Flexible Option is a joint undertaking of the UW System and UW-Extension. Participating institutions currently include UW-Milwaukee and the UW Colleges. For more information on the UW Flexible Option, including descriptions of the degree and certificate programs offered and how students may apply, go to:

The University of Wisconsin System is one of the largest systems of public higher education in the country, enrolling more than 180,000 students. The UW System is made up of 13 four-year universities; 13 freshman-sophomore UW Colleges campuses; and the statewide networks of UW-Extension.

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. For more information, visit:

Media Contacts

Sandra Kallio UW Colleges/UW-Extension (608) 890-3558
David Giroux UW System (608) 262-4464