American consumers’ demand for convenience has changed the way retailers and restaurants deliver, the way talent is recruited and how just about every business operates.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know there’s a digital transformation afoot in the education industry too. More than 6.6 million postsecondary students in the U.S. were seeking their degrees at least partly online in 2017. Inside Higher Ed, relying on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education data, reported in late 2018 that online enrollment was growing while traditional enrollment was dropping.

Specifically, the number of students from fall 2016 to fall 2017 who took at least some of their courses online grew by 5.7 percent compared to a dip of nearly half a percentage point for traditional classwork. The proportion of students enrolled exclusively online grew by 14.7 percent. Those mixing it up with both classroom and online instruction grew by 17.6 percent. More than 33 percent of students reported taking at least one course online.

One of TechPoint’s core missions is to help nurture Talent development, which is why we’re so invested in Indiana colleges and universities. We asked the state’s major educational institutions how — or if — they were responding to the demand for online educational options.

Leading off the first in a series of reports from that query is a look at Western Governors University Indiana, which celebrates its first decade this year. WGU Indiana is the first state affiliate of WGU, which was established in 1997. It offers more than 60 bachelor’s and master’s degrees, has more than 5,600 students currently enrolled and has awarded more than 9,000 degrees to Hoosier students so far.

WATCH VIDEO of WGU Indiana Chancellor Alison Bell sharing thoughts with Public Relations Manager Corey Elliot about the future of online education.

“The founding governors—which included then-Governor Mitch Daniels—realized that technology, the Internet, and a new model of competency-based education could transform higher education by creating new opportunities for working adults,” said Chancellor Alison Bell.

WGU’s mission is to open doors for adult learners who need the flexibility and affordability of an Indiana online university to achieve educational and career goals. Because studying online is much different than traditional classes, WGU offers a support system to inspire and excite students and to build human connection.

Alison Bell
Chancellor, WGU Indiana
“It’s important to connect with other students and create that sense of community and support throughout their studies with others who may have similar challenges or successes with online learning.”

WGU establishes chat rooms, message boards and online communities to create connection opportunities among students and to open the door for resource sharing. The university also offers students a hands-on mentor who offers advice on their online education journeys. Frequent check-ins make students feel seen and heard at times when they might otherwise feel isolated. Upon enrollment at WGU Indiana, each student is assigned a program mentor who supports them throughout their time at WGU Indiana and beyond, providing advice, coaching, and support.

Aside from the obvious, entirely online differentiator WGU Indiana offers a competency-based education model that allows students to to earn credit hours for skills they’ve already mastered in addition to earning credit hours for new knowledge and skills through online classes.

“Any student can be an online learner,” Chancellor Bell said. “Our programs are built with flexibility and affordability in mind to fit the needs of working professionals, parents and people looking to secure a degree on their own schedules.”

Competency-based learning allows students to move more quickly through material they already know so they can focus on learning new skills. WGU also doesn’t have set time requirements, so students can accelerate or decelerate to fit within other demands on their time from jobs and family.

Because WGU graduates have to demonstrate their mastery, employers can be assured they’re getting employees who can add value to the team from day one.

“Success at WGU requires self-starters, self-motivators and good time-management skills,” Alison says. “That said, you don’t need to be the most organized person in the world. We understand you’re balancing life, work and studies. No one does that perfectly. But do come with an idea of a time-management plan.”

The most common time for WGU students to access their student portal is 10 p.m.

“That tells us we have a lot of ambitious students who are utilizing whatever windows of time they can find to further their education,” she said. “That’s impressive to us, and it should be impressive to prospective employers.”

Speaking of impressive, meet just a few WGU students.

Josh Turner – Josh turned to WGU Indiana in hopes of furthering his education, all while continuing to work at his current job, taking care of his two children and getting involved in his local government. He was recently elected to New Albany’s Fifth District City Council and will soon complete his Bachelor’s of Science (B.S.) in cybersecurity from WGU Indiana’s Cybersecurity and Information Assurance program.

Ayana Russell – Ayana is an Indianapolis native and practical nurse at Community Hospital East who graduated in July 2019 with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from WGU Indiana. Though the timing was not right for her to go back to school when she initially enrolled in 2013, as her two teenagers grew older and more independent, she found the time and flexibility to begin her career advancement journey at WGU Indiana while continuing to work full-time at the hospital. Though she was challenged along the way, Ayana had the support of her mentors, earned several scholarships, and gained the confidence in herself to reach her goals.

Andrew Nagel – Andrew is a military veteran and WGU Indiana alumni. He trained as a combat medic, he spent years helping his fellow service members, becoming a licensed practical nurse along the way and eventually an instructor. After 22 years of service, Andrew retired from the Army Reserves – but he wasn’t done serving yet. With three teenagers and a full-time job, Andrew knew a typical nursing program wouldn’t be possible. WGU Indiana’s competency based learning model allowed him to successfully complete his degree at his own pace and accelerate through portions he had already mastered from his time in the military.