Walker made waves this week when he said he wants to finish his degree, which would plug a hole in his resume if he runs for president in 2016. He left Marquette University 34 credits shy of graduating in May 1990. He studied political science, economics and philosophy. Walker last week said he would like to complete his degree through the UW System's new Flexible Option Degree Program, launched in January.
The program, the first of its kind for a public university in the United States, is designed for people like Walker who have some college experience but left to take a job or start a family and never returned to finish their classwork. The program allows applicants to apply previous work skills, knowledge or course work toward completing a degree.
The program's initial focus was on filling the largest skills gaps in Wisconsin: information technology, health care, and business and management. Walker has been an outspoken advocate of growing the program.
"We'd like to see it broadened, not so much for me but for others who are interested in the program," Walker said. "If I could find the right course load, I would do it."
Course offerings are continually evaluated, said Aaron Brower, interim chancellor for UW Extension, which oversees the program. Political science and economics are two of the most popular college majors; offering flex degrees in those areas has been looked at but there are no immediate plans to do so, he said.
Four new degree offerings are in the works now: a drug and alcohol certification program at UW-Madison, a geographic information certificate program at UW-Stevens Point, a bachelor's degree in general studies at UW-Parkside and a projects management certificate program at UW-Stout.
It takes between six and 18 months to develop a flex degree program, Brower said. While that would preclude Walker from finishing his degree before this fall's re-election campaign, there could still be time for Walker to get his degree or be in the process of finishing it during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Walker hasn't asked that the university start a flex option program in an area he wants to study, Brower said.
"He really has trusted us to run the program the way it should be," Brower said. "I really respect that he's stepped out of the way."
Walker left college three months after taking a job at the local chapter of the American Red Cross in 1990. Walker has said he thought about finishing his degree, but after getting married in 1993 and having a son in 1994, that was no longer an option.
Almost immediately after dropping out of Marquette, Walker ran for the state Assembly and lost in November 1990. The next time he ran, in 1993, Walker won a special election and went on to serve nine years in the Assembly before being elected Milwaukee County executive in 2002 and then governor eight years later.
"I don't think I needed a college degree to be in the state Assembly, to be county executive nor to be governor," Walker said when asked whether he needed a degree to run for president last week. "I don't know about any other position."
Walker is being challenged for re-election by Democrat Mary Burke, a Harvard Business School graduate who is a former state commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle Corp. executive.