WGU Indiana is obsessed with student success
Editor’s Note: In March 2019, WGU Indiana announced that it’s new Chancellor would be Alison Barber Bell. This article features an interview with former Chancellor Allison Barber, who is now president and COO of the Indiana Fever WNBA basketball franchise.
Thirty-seven million Americans have some college experience but no degree. In Indiana alone there are 750,000 people who were able to start on a path to a degree but for one reason or another weren’t able to finish college.WGU Indiana, the state’s nonprofit competency-based online university. — @DrAllisonBarber (Twitter)
“There are also many working professionals with tech certifications who are making great livings in $60,000 salaried positions and they are ready to move up, to become IT managers and directors, but they can’t because they don’t have the degree.”
With an estimated 900,000 new jobs being created in Indiana by 2018 — many of them in technology and healthcare — and over half of them requiring bachelor’s degrees, the need for accessible educational options for those with some college to complete their degrees is not just important, but essential to the state’s future economy.
“At WGU, we approach education more like a tech startup would, putting students and what they want to accomplish at the center of everything we do,” Barber said. “It’s part of our moto to ‘meet you where you are and when you’re ready,’ which is how we’ve been able grow from 250 students six years ago to more than 4,000 graduates and nearly 5,000 enrolled students today. We are obsessed with student success and really what we are is a tech company that provides higher education; we’re not a traditional higher education institution — nothing about us looks, feels or costs like an institution.”
Currently, WGU has enrolled students living in all 92 Indiana counties. The average age of a WGU student is 37 years old, 50 percent are female, 80 percent work full time, and approximately 98 percent of WGU Indiana students stay in Indiana after graduation.
WGU Indiana offers 52 accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in high-demand career fields, including six bachelor’s and four master’s degrees through its College of Information Technology. WGU’s competency-based education model assesses what students know through a “prove-it” battery of tests, papers and assignments, instead of requiring specific credit hours or “seat time” in classrooms.
Coursework is 100 percent online and students have dedicated faculty members who work closely with them throughout their degree program, including regularly scheduled, weekly phone calls to track progress or just to talk about course work.
“Online education isn’t for everyone and we have wonderful four-year, traditional institutions here in Indiana and an exceptional community college system for those who need that environment. But WGU has really disrupted education with technology and Fast Company has even named us one of the most innovative companies in the world,” Barber said.
“People may have this impression of ‘the digital classroom’ as a video of a professor lecturing posted online, and that’s not what we do at WGU. What we offer is a student-centric experience using technology to facilitate learning in proven ways that our students love and that produces skilled workers employers want to hire.”
Curricula are industry-led and based on the skill sets and knowledge employers are looking for when hiring. Before WGU Indiana launched it’s software development degree, faculty met with local business and tech leaders to determine required competencies, and then they licensed the curriculum and developed their own customized assessments. The degree was just ranked the number one online software development degree by College Choice.
“We might use two chapters from this textbook and a chapter from that one along with videos and white papers,” Barber said. “We offer a variety of learning resources because you and I may need different resources to succeed, and everything is included in the $6,000 a year cost.”
WGU Indiana operates on a 12-month fee schedule and students are permitted to accelerate through as many courses as they want per year. Because all of WGU’s undergraduate students are transfers who have had at least some college, most are able to complete their degrees in two to two and a half years costing $12,000-$18,000 (approximately half the cost of in-state tuition at a traditional university).
WGU is definitely on to something with its pioneering educational approach and competency-based model. Southern New Hampshire University recently made a major national media buy promoting their tech-driven, competency-based programs on television, and locally Purdue University is making moves into competency-based offerings.
According to Chancellor Barber, WGU loves that competitors are following their lead. In fact, once a quarter Western Governor’s University open its doors to teach their model and share their tech-driven approach with other accredited universities.
“We can’t help all 37 million Americans with some college and no degree on our own,” Barber said. “We’ve grown very fast but we just can’t reach everybody on our own. But we can contribute to all of their lives if more universities will mirror our competency-based model because it’s how adults succeed.”