Tonya Drake, the chancellor of Western Governors University’s Washington affiliate, wants to see enrollment double at the online nonprofit school.
Seven years after it created an affiliate in this state, an online, competency-based national university started by a group of western governors is getting its largest share of enrollment from Washington.
Western Governors University has enrolled more than 11,000 Washington students this academic year, and graduated its largest class of residents of this state — 3,000 students — last month.
That’s the largest enrollment from any state in the country, said the new chancellor of the WGU Washington affiliate, Tonya Drake. She believes it’s growing in Washington because WGU has done a good job of getting the word out in this state.
Drake, formerly the vice president for college relations and advancement at Edmonds Community College, said she wants to see the enrollment double in the next five years.
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The university’s biggest draws are its health-care, education and business programs, and it has focused on those areas because that’s where the workforce shortages are, Drake said. More recently, it has moved into cybersecurity, cloud and systems administration and computer science, she said.
WGU, a nonprofit, was formed by 19 western state governors in 1997. Their idea: To make a college degree more widely accessible by offering it online, at a low price.
It is “competency-based,” meaning that as soon as a student can demonstrate mastery in a specific skill or area, he or she receives credit for that skill. That model is aimed at helping speed students through a degree program.
In 2011, the Salt Lake City-based university formed a Washington affiliate, which was recognized by the state Legislature. That opened the door for Washington students to get state financial aid to pay for WGU classes.
The program is entirely online, and offers more than 60 bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, information technology, teacher education and the health professions.
Last year, WGU ran afoul of a federal law after auditors with the U.S. Education Department said the university had failed to provide “regular and substantive interaction between students and their instructors,” as required by federal law.
Although that finding could make the institution ineligible to receive federal student aid, The Chronicle of Higher Education says few higher-education observers think the federal office will find WGU ineligible to receive aid. The Chronicle noted that “the institution has long enjoyed bipartisan support and is widely regarded as a standard-bearer of higher-education innovation.”
A study WGU commissioned by the polling company Gallup said WGU graduates’ full-time employment exceeds that of students from other colleges by almost 20 percentage points. And 72 percent of graduates told Gallup they “strongly agree” their education was worth the cost.
WGU’s model makes use of mentors to help guide its students through online courses. It offers a flat rate of $3,335 per six-month term for undergraduate programs, and $3,895 per term for graduate programs. WGU says the average student pays less than $16,000 to earn a bachelor’s degree and less than $10,000 for a master’s degree.
Drake said she took the job because she likes the university’s online, competency-based approach. “I find it very innovative, and compelling for students to not be time-bound and place-bound,” she said.