MADISON, Wis.—Facing intense competition in online education, the University of Wisconsin System is planning more focused coordination of new and existing resources to capture more of the online education market.

The effort will involve intensive research on program opportunities with the goal of accelerating the development of new online programs while enhancing marketing toward adult learners and Wisconsin employers.

“We have an opportunity to better serve adult learners in Wisconsin, but we have to be more aggressive and focused to serve these potential students and employers,” said UW System President Tommy Thompson. “This proposal adds focus and resources while leveraging what the UW can offer to help solve this challenge.”

The UW System Board of Regents heard a presentation on the framework for the UW System’s online education plans – including enhanced research and marketing, expanded program and curriculum development, and maximum flexibility to respond to evolution in the marketplace – at its meeting Friday. Details for the framework, called Project Distance Education+ (Project DE+), are being developed through ongoing discussions with university and other stakeholders.

The effort will target the estimated 815,000 adults in Wisconsin with some college credit but no degree. Adult learners often identify online education as the preferred pathway for advanced education.

UW System will also solicit employers as it determines which career-ready programs to develop and offer. Surveys show adult learners are more likely to pursue online education opportunities that offer non-credit, work-related training as opposed to degrees.

UW System has made improving online education a key focus of its 2021-23 budget proposal. It is seeking about $15 million to get started but would eventually be self-sustaining.

The improved online education plan would be implemented as early as January 2022, depending upon funding.

UW System and each of its 13 universities have been delivering online education to students for years; in 2018-19 about 10,000 students were receiving over 50 percent of their coursework online. UW Extended Campus, which partners with universities to develop and offer degree programs, is responsible for over half of all fully online enrollments. UW System plans to aggressively increase both program growth and enrollment through Project DE+.


The University of Wisconsin System serves approximately 165,000 students. Awarding nearly 37,000 degrees annually, the UW System is Wisconsin’s talent pipeline, putting graduates in position to increase their earning power, contribute to their communities, and make Wisconsin a better place to live. Nearly 90 percent of in-state UW System graduates stay in Wisconsin five years after earning a degree. The UW System provides a 23:1 return on state investment. UW System institutions also contribute to the richness of Wisconsin’s culture and economy with groundbreaking research, new companies and patents, and boundless creative intellectual energy.

Media Contact

Mark Pitsch UW System (608) 265-3419