Carving time out to get to class often feels impossible. Distance education is a practical solution for many.

Share story

It’s no secret that higher education is often a path to higher earnings. In 2014, median earnings for adults over the age of 25 with a bachelor’s degree were $1,193 per week, 79 percent higher than median earnings of those with only a high school education ($668 per week), according to the U.S. Department Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Beyond the financial benefits is the personal satisfaction and growth graduates achieve. But reaching that goal can be a challenge, as the pressures and time constraints of adult life build. Carving time out to get to class often feels impossible. Distance education is a practical solution for many.

In the fall of 2013, there were more than 5 million students enrolled in distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary schools (U.S. Department of Education). Charleson Gray, a recent WGU Washington graduate, found his way back to academia after more than a decade pursuing other passions.

Charleson was always a great student. He took his first college course at 13 years old. He earned a full academic scholarship to a university at 15. He was studying philosophy and art history before he could even drive.

But as a world of opportunity rapidly unfolded before him, he was drawn away from academia by other pursuits, including travel and filmmaking.

More than a decade passed. Charleson settled well into a career with a significant communications company. Still, he knew — to get where he wanted to be as a professional and a person, he needed to go back to school.

On the advice of several of his professional mentors, Charleson enrolled in WGU Washington’s College of Business. He knew immediately he had made the right choice. The online university accepted his previous college credits, and its competency-based model let him apply what he already knew and fast-track toward graduation.

“I had the opportunity to accelerate my program,” says Charleson. “I’m very proud to have completed a 2.5-year degree program in just one year.”

Because highly motivated students can apply what they already know and graduate sooner, Charleson believes WGU Washington’s competency-based approach is a perfect fit for ambitious, midcareer men and women.

“I had to demonstrate knowledge and complete projects that meet and exceed clear thresholds. That mirrors my work life, where I am expected to learn and contribute at a high level. Working on my credential and working on my career went hand-in-hand.

“I know my education is in alignment with my career goals, can easily speak to it in interviews and apply it in my day-to-day role. That is priceless,” he says.

His new degree already has helped him in his career, and his success has inspired others to enroll — including his wife.

And Charleson has signed up again at WGU Washington, this time to get an MBA. He’s proven time and again he’s a great student, and there’s little doubt Charleson — perhaps sooner rather than later — will find himself at yet another commencement ceremony. And on that day of celebration, the love of his life won’t be in the bleachers — she’ll likely be standing right beside him.

WGU Washington is an online, competency-based university designed to expand access to higher education for Washington residents.