More than 700,000 Hoosiers have some college but no degree. That’s like almost the entire population of Indianapolis fighting with one arm tied behind their backs. Going back to school and/or seeking advanced degrees is already a tough sell for many busy adults with full-time jobs and responsibilities, but the thought of going into debt for more of the same — classrooms, lectures, prerequisites and schedules — well, it’s understandable that so many people who didn’t finish, don’t go back.
Traditional universities always have and always will do a great job of educating young people and preparing them for successful careers. I know I value my four-year degree tremendously. According to Dr. Allison Barber, chancellor of WGU Indiana — the all online, nonprofit, state university — it’s not the same for all adults.
“What we know about adults, which is true for employees too, is that they learn at different rates, in different ways, and a lot of it really depends on what [experience] you’re bringing with you when you come back to college,” Allison said. She presented the story of WGU Indiana to a skeptical and curious crowd last week at TechPoint’s Tech Thursday hosted at Faegre Baker Daniels. By the end, Allison had eschewed all skepticism and turned many attendees into advocates who were asking pointed questions for themselves and their family members.
Allison herself was an elementary school teacher in Merrillville, Ind., before her husband joined the Army and they moved to Washington D.C., which led to some surprising career moves for a grade school teacher. Before the move, she taught first, second and sixth grades. After the move to D.C., Allison served as the the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Internal Communications and Public Liaison at the Pentagon and the White House during the early stages of the war in Afghanistan and again during the buildup phase of the war in Iraq. She was also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, teaching in the master’s program for Public Relations and Corporate Communications.
This year marks the fourth anniversary of WGU Indiana’s founding. Last year, the entire Western Governor’s University system was recognized by Fast Company magazine as one of “The World’s Most Innovative Companies.” It’s very rare for a school to be included and last year WGU was the only school to make the list.
WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Barber talks with Tech Thursday attendees following her presentation about the all online, nonprofit university that is celebrating its fourth anniversary as Indiana’s eight state university.
What makes WGU and WGU Indiana so innovative is the disruptive use of technology. “We have one focus, our one goal is to help our students’ dreams come true by achieving a bachelor’s or mater’s degree so that they can better their career and better their lives,” Allison said. That focus and goal is inextricably linked to technology and “blowing up” the old ways of doing things.
Here are 20 interesting things about WGU Indiana:
1.) WGU Indiana has 1,400 graduates to date and 3,500 enrolled students today.
2.) WGU Indiana has four colleges, healthcare, education, business, and IT.
3.) Tuition for WGU Indiana is a flat rate $6,000 per year. It has not increased in four years and WGU Indiana is the only university in the U.S. that hasn’t raised tuition in four years.
“”A reporter the other day said to me ‘why haven’t you raised tuition,’ and I said because we don’t want to, it’s just that simple,” Allison said. “Would the market bare it, absolutely, but we don’t want adults to go into debt to receive their bachelor’s or master’s degree, therefore we don’t raise tuition.”
4.) Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School calls WGU the “disruptors in higher education.”
“A lot of schools promote that they provide online education because they videotape their professors standing up and lecturing in the classroom, they put that over a phone line and they call that online education. So we would challenge that a little to say that’s actually classroom education distributed, right? What we do is leverage technology to provide options for students who prefer to watch a video or read the chapter, or read white papers.”
WGU Indiana believes so strongly in their competency-based learning model that they share it for free with anyone who wants to try it, including other universities.
5.) WGU invented competency-based education where you don’t have to pay for or take classes about things you already know.
Allison told a story about a student who had tried to get credits transferred at a different university from 20 years ago. Of course, nobody accepts credits from 20 years ago, they say you better retake those courses and pay for it again. But what’s funny is that if you have the degree they don’t make you retake those courses. At WGU Indiana you don’t need to deal with that, you just prove you know what you need to know and move on with your education.
6.) WGU Indiana doesn’t get any money from the state. It is a fully accredited university and students qualify for Indiana student financial aid, but WGU itself does not take money directly from the state of Indiana.
7.) Over the past 10 years, college tuition has increased on average 80%. WGU Indiana has not increased tuition since its inception in 2010.
8.) WGU Indiana graduates increase their salaries by $18,000 within six years.
9.) WGU Indiana graduates pay back their tuition with two-three years, which is unheard of in higher education.
10.) The entire WGU Indiana campus is located within 2,700 sq. ft. of office space in downtown Indianapolis.
Because all students and all faculty work from home, there is no need for a large and expensive campus like traditional universities. When they added the IT school, WGU Indiana spoke with local employers to find out what skill sets were most needed. Then they went out and bought the corresponding coursework, revised and developed it with faculty to meet market demands, and then launched the school.
11.) The schedule for WGU Indiana is your schedule. If August is a bad time for you because you are trying to get your kids back to school, you can start your course in October or November or whenever is best for you.
12.) 100% of WGU Indiana’s faculty are full-time and they work from home.
13.) Every student at WGU Indiana is paired with a faculty member/advisor and they talk on the phone once a week.
When you hear that WGU Indiana is all online, it’s easy to assume students are kind of on their own. However, Allison tells stories about how connected the students are to the school and how they are held accountable through the weekly phone calls with their faculty advisor.
14.) 100% of textbooks and other materials for WGU Indiana courses are provided for free online and covered by the flat-rate $6,000 tuition.
15.) The average age of a WGU Indiana student is 37 years old.
16.) WGU Indiana send every student a webcam (covered by tuition) and all exams are proctored by a third party.
Before each test, students have to scan their room with the webcam to show the proctor that they are alone and that they do not have notes or answers tacked to the walls, etc. They also take a short typing test that identifies their typing rhythm, which is as unique as fingerprints.
17.) 99% of the employers WGU Indiana partners with say that they want more WGU Indiana graduates.
18.) WGU Indiana students score 80% higher in critical thinking and problem solving than the national student average.
19.) WGU Indiana students rate their satisfaction 9% higher than students at other universities.
20.) Scalability allows WGU Indiana to grow with the population. They grew 1400% over a year and never missed a beat.