WGU Extending Its Influence: Partnership between Western Governor's University and Indiana Likely to Improve College-Degree Attainment among the State's Minority Students

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Officials at Western Governor's University--the nation's only nonprofit online university headquartered in Salt Lake City--say a new partnership with Indiana will likely result in thousands of the state's minority students obtaining a college degree.

In June, WGU--founded in the late 1990s with the goal of helping adult learners earn a college degree--established a presence in Indiana. The move was petitioned by legislators looking to find creative ways to promote educational opportunities, particularly among minority adults who trail far behind their White counterparts in earning college degrees. According to state census figures, Whites in Indiana are three times more likely than Blacks to hold a college degree.

WGU is a competency-based university that caters to adult learners and rewards credit for work experience and helps cater to students who are too busy to attend traditional college classes, says WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Barber.

"Our model is customized to really help adult learners who are from rural communities, first-generation and minorities to earn a college degree," says Barber, who adds that students from underrepresented backgrounds account for 80 percent of WGU's student population. "We provide a flexible and affordable option that works well with our adult learners."

The new collaboration between Indiana and WGU allows state money to cover financial aid for Indiana residents who enroll at the university. The Lumina Foundation for Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will front the dollars to support the initial costs.

"WGU Indiana is a great example of the innovative thinking that is very much needed in higher education today," says Lumina President Jamie Merisotis. "Its online, competency-based approach to learning shows great promise as a cost-effective model for delivering quality higher education."

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a member of WGU's Board of Trustees, has championed the partnership as "Indiana's eighth state university" and says states have to think outside of the box when it comes to educating their work force.

"WGU Indiana will fill the clearest and most challenging gap remaining in our family of higher education opportunities: helping thousands of adult Hoosiers attain the college degrees they've always wanted and needed, on a schedule they can manage (and) at a cost they can afford," he says.

The tuition to attend WGU Indiana will be about $3,000 over a six-month period, says Barber, who adds that there is no restriction on how many credits a student can take during that period. …