The size of this year’s graduating class speaks to the significant impact the nonprofit, online university has made.

Share story

From behind the podium, Arni Verkler looked out at the audience. On either side of her, thousands of people filled the stands at KeyArena. And in front of her – clad in deep blue caps and gowns – sat WGU Washington’s graduating class of 2016.

“I am incredibly thankful to WGU Washington,” Verkler, a Burien resident, said into a microphone, “for giving me access to an excellent, affordable education and helping me fulfill my American dream.”

In April, nearly 1,900 graduates from communities across the state were honored at WGU Washington’s fifth annual commencement ceremony. It was the nonprofit, online university’s largest graduating class since the school was launched in 2011. The size of this year’s group speaks to the significant impact WGU Washington has made on the state.

“Our commencement ceremony and all the grads are the manifestation of the mission laid out when WGU Washington was created five years ago,” said WGU Washington Chancellor Jean Floten. “We are incredibly proud of the academic accomplishments of our graduates.”

Since Washington’s legislature endorsed the university and Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill making it official, WGU Washington’s enrollment has grown to over 9,200 full-time students. And, overall, more than 5,700 bachelor’s and master’s degrees have been awarded to men and women living in the state – many of them midcareer adults.

Verkler is one of them. She recently graduated with an MBA in Healthcare Management. Her degree means she’ll bring new knowledge and skills to her job and, as an employee of Virginia Mason, will contribute to a higher level of care and patient outcomes. For Verkler and all the university’s graduates, education increases earning potential.

College grads can expect to earn twice as much as non-college grads over the course of their working lives, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And the U.S. Department of Education says the annual median salary with a master’s degree is roughly double than that earned with only a high school diploma.

More than a quarter of the members of the graduating class of 2016 say they’ve ALREADY received a raise, promotion or both as a result of their degree from WGU Washington. With the promise of added income waiting on the other side, Verkler says the coursework was challenging, and she had to work hard to earn her degree.

“I had to grind through some of the material, all while working full time and raising two kids on my own,” said Verkler. “Though there were times I wanted to give up, the faculty kept me focused. And my children encouraged and supported me.”

In the end, with tenacity and perseverance, she made it to graduation day. And for her – and the other nearly 1,900 member of WGU Washington’s class of 2016 – there is a lot to celebrate.