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The University of Wisconsin System’s new flexible degree option for working adults has earned approval from an accrediting agency, clearing the way for the first degree programs to enroll students later this year.

“It is a strong vote of confidence from our higher-education colleagues,” said UW System President Kevin Reilly in a statement about earning approval from the Higher Learning Commission.

Applications by UW-Milwaukee and UW Colleges — the System schools with degree programs ready to roll this fall — were submitted in mid-May. The schools will next apply to the U.S. Department of Education for approval to give financial aid to students in the programs.

UW-Milwaukee got approval to offer the following degrees: a bachelor’s in nursing, a bachelor’s in diagnostic imaging, a bachelor’s in information science and technology and a certificate in professional and technical communication. The university plans to begin another program, a master’s in nursing, in fall 2014.

The two-year UW Colleges won approval for an associate of arts and science degree to meet general education requirements.

The flexible degree concept was introduced last June, promising a more accessible, affordable path to a degree for working adults who can learn at their own pace and test out of units as soon as they’ve gained proficiency. The flexible degrees are aimed at the estimated 750,000 adults in Wisconsin who have some college experience but no degree, which can stall professional advancement.

Gov. Scott Walker has been a vocal supporter of the flexible degrees and on Thursday lauded the announcement that they’ve been accredited.

“This is great news for students and workers, and I thank UW System faculty and staff and the UW System Board of Regents for their hard work on this bold and innovative improvement,” he said in a statement.

The UW System Board of Regents will vote on setting tuition for the programs at its meeting Thursday and Friday in Madison .

Students in the new programs will be able to choose between a three-month “all you can learn” block, at an all-inclusive rate of $2,250, or an “assessment only” option where they pay a la carte for specific competency exams that allow them to pass on to the next phase of degree programs.

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Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal