No Degree? WGU Offers Potential Solution

“I’m too busy.” “I’ve got family obligations.” “I work long hours.” “It’s too expensive.” “It’s not necessary.”

If those thoughts have ever entered your mind when thinking about getting an advanced degree, you’re probably not alone. But, if you’re one of the 730,000 Hoosiers with some college but no degree, it’s time for you to realize there are new options that combat those excuses.

If you’re too busy or you work long hours or you have family obligations that take up your daytime hours, there’s an online university called Western Governors University (WGU) Indiana that could fill the gap for you. Not only can you complete coursework whenever and wherever it’s convenient for you, you can take as many or as few classes that you can handle at a time.

How about that “too expensive” reason? As the cost is about $3,000 per six-month term and students have the option to complete their degree as fast as they can, a two-year bachelor’s or master’s degree would cost about $12,000. (WGU Indiana students are also eligible for financial aid.)

Not necessary? Ask Allison Barber, chancellor of WGU Indiana. “Our nation is now No. 10. We’re No. 10 of college graduates in the world. That’s a nationwide issue. It’s a crisis. We’re (Indiana) No. 45 in the country of people with college degrees,” she stresses.

Also, if you want to move up the ladder in your career field, chances are you’ll need an advanced degree. See? It’s necessary.

For the March/April edition of BizVoice® magazine, I got to interview Barber, as well a student and mentor from WGU Indiana and school administrators from other Indiana online institutions. Read the full story to hear more about their experiences and the potential for the non-profit online university to fill the void of Hoosiers with no college degrees.

Analyzing the WGU Benefits

Gov. Daniels announced the creation of WGU (Western Governors University) Indiana last month to increase higher ed options in the state and hopefully drive more students to completion. An Inside Higher Ed article (read it here) earlier this week featured the Indiana effort and the potential of similar arrangements in other locales.

Indiana Chamber education expert Derek Redelman commented on that story, to provide more information and to further explain the benefits for Hoosiers. Again, the full story is above for those who need the background; the majority of Derek’s post is featured below and enhances the understanding.

The formation of WGU Indiana, along with Gov. Daniels’ strong public endorsement, offers a terrific opportunity for Indiana learners – for all the reasons that the story portrays. But there are more components to this development than is even noted in the story: First, the price structure is for time rather than credit hours or semesters. $3,000 will buy the student as many courses as he/she can complete in the six-month time period. So there’s a direct incentive – and a reward – for working hard.

Second, start times are flexible – with new groups starting every month of the year. So there’s no more waiting around for a new semester to begin. Once that adult learner takes the initiative to pursue his/her options, he/she can get started almost immediately – while the motivation is still high. That should lead to fewer lost opportunities. Third, completion/advancement is based on competency demonstration and is flexible to the individual learner’s pace. So for those students who need a rerfresher rather than a semester-long course, or for those who are able/willing to work faster than the traditional college pace, there is opportunity (and incentive) to do so.

While none of this is completely new, it is unique – as best that I am aware – as the default approach for any other institution operating in Indiana.

I do hope that the approaches offered by WGU will catch hold in other Indiana institutions. Yes, there are other online learning opportunities offered by nearly all – maybe every single one – of our public institutions. But how many of those are offered with the incentives/components noted in the story? I am aware of none. As for course articulation agreements that will be helpful to students, my observations indicate that we remain far, far away from achieving the level of convenience necessary.

I recall in the 1990s sitting through three years of monthly meetings – lasting 4+ hours per meeting – as our state institutions struggled to meet a legislative mandate for just 10 entry-level, for-credit courses to be tranferrable across all public institutions. Yes, the ’90s are "ancient history" at this point. And yes, Indiana is now well beyond that initial 10-course mandate. But the process for expanding on those articulation agreements remains incredibly arduous and the results of current agreements remain confusing to students. Indeed, there are courses taught at one branch of our intitutions that do not even transfer to other branches of the same institution. As yet another development resulting from the creation of WGU Indiana, it is my understanding that every single course taught at our community college system will be transferrable to WGU – and they did that without a years-long, committee laden, course-by-course, campus-by-campus process.

I remain a biased advocate for Indiana’s entire higher education system, and I completely agree with those who suggest that there are terrific opportunities here. But even the best can get better. And the addition of WGU Indiana adds one more institution to that portfolio of great options.