Two initiatives at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside are getting federal attention as educational options that can be implemented to fill local jobs and skill gaps.
Peggy James, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies at Parkside, and Suresh Chalasani, a professor and director of the university's competency-business degree flexible option for a bachelor’s of science in business administration, spoke on Thursday before congress' Middle Class Jobs Caucus on ways to make higher education more affordable.
They were invited to Washington, D.C., by U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, who represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District where Parkside is located and who is also the co-chair of the Middle Class Jobs Caucus.
The event was titled "Innovation in Education: Dual Enrollment and competency-based Education, Helping People Get the Education Needed for Middle Class Jobs."
Steil, a former member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, said Parkside is a “unique leader” with competency-based business education and concurrent enrollment for high school students.
“It has a big impact on people that want to have that affordable aspect of a quality education,” Steil said.
Competency-based business education at Parkside allows for students, mostly older students in their 30s, to take classes on their own schedule based on the skills they have attained through work experience.
“They may have been working for the past 10, 15 years but they cannot advance in their career because they don’t have a bachelor’s degree,” Chalasani said. “They cannot come to a classroom, traditional system, and start taking classes, that doesn’t fit their schedule.”
Chalasani said that unlike traditional fall and spring semester start times, students enrolled in the competency-based business education program can start any month and can “bookmark” where they are in the program if they need additional time to finish.
“They can progress at their own pace if they have the ability and that is, honestly, a huge advantage,” Chalasani said, adding that the program also looks for lower-priced text books, mostly online, to reduce cost.
Steil called the program “creative,” noting that it addressed the work force needs “and it saves students a lot of money.”
“If you have the skill set, we’re going to give you the credential to recognize that, rather than work the other way around” Steil said. “If you learned accounting on the job, you can go and prove that out and walk out with your accounting degree in a lot less time than it would take under a traditional model.”
So far Steil has co-sponsored the competency-based Education Act, which has been introduced in the House and is an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965, clarifies competency-based education.
“It’s a completely non-partisan issue,” Steil said. “I’d like to see us focus on more of these things that we can accomplish during a period of time in divided government.”
Concurrent enrollment program
For about the last four years, Parkside has been working with the Racine Unified School District to provide college credits to students willing to take college courses.
James said the high school students can take college level general education classes which can be transferable to other universities.
“They save the students money, it saves them time and it gives them a feel for what college is like and make students aware of things they need to do to succeed in college,” James said. “Concurrent enrollment allows a student to take courses in their own high school from their own high school instructor. And what this means is they don’t have to worry about transportation, they don’t have to worry about sitting in a college course with other college’s students and being intimidated. It also fits into their schedule and allows them to pursue other opportunities in high school.”
Because of the worker shortage being experienced in different parts of the country, legislators, education and business officials have been coming together to find new ways to train workers.
“Businesses are very receptive to these ideas, both dual enrollment and competency-based education,” Chalasani said. “Representatives from a number of businesses in the Milwaukee/Chicago corridor... they know the skills gap, they know these are the innovative programs that bridge those skills gaps but it employs students.”