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The graduation
ceremony, she
wrote in a follow-
up e-mail, “really
inspired me to
continue to reach
toward my goal,
knowing that others
have achieved their
dreams, and so can
I.”
Had she known
about the school,
Tanner, like other
Indiana residents,
could have enrolled
at WGU in the past.
By branding it as a
state institution, Indiana has made it possible for students to
use state financial aid to help pay for tuition, although so far
that does not appear to be a large factor in attracting students:
Only ten percent of those enrolled have done so. Many
working adults, like Tanner, don’t qualify for aid. But if they
do, federal Pell grants often cover most of the cost of WGU’s
tuition.
More importantly, the state version of WGU raises its
profile and its credibility, and creates a local presence. WGU
Indiana has hired 70 mentors and counselors who work
out of the downtown offices; they won’t necessarily work
exclusively with Indiana students, andWGU Indiana students
may wind up with out-of-state mentors, but it’s good to have
in-state employees. “People want to be connected to their
neighbor,” noted Barber. WGU Indiana appeals to that desire.
“It’s the ’57 Chevy that’s been sitting in someone’s garage
for a while until someone realizes you can make it work,” said
Jenkins.
And Daniels wanted to get that car on the road in a hurry.
“We always say here we like to move at the speed of business,
not the speed of government,” he said.
When it came to gettingWGU Indiana up and running,
it helped that Daniels happened to be located in the same
city as the Lumina Foundation for Education, which focuses
on access and success in higher education; its “big goal”
is to increase the percentage of U.S. adults with a college
degree or credential from 39 percent to 60 percent by 2025.
“If we’re going to get to that goal, we need to expand the
understanding of what higher education is,” said Jamie
Merisotis, president and CEO of the foundation.
As founding president of the Institute for Higher
Education Policy, Merisotis was familiar withWGU even
before he took the helm of the Lumina Foundation for
Education in 2008, and he had wondered why it hadn’t gotten
to a bigger scale. He had even discussed a state-by-state model
withWGU President Mendenhall. So it wasn’t difficult to
convince Lumina, which previously had funded research
to look at the effectiveness of WGU, to provide $500,000 in
startup funding for WGU Indiana. (At about the same time,
the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on low-
income young adult students, agreed to provide $750,000.
Some months later, WGU Indiana received an additional
$500,000 from the Lilly Foundation, which, like the Lumina
Foundation, is based in Indianapolis and often funds projects
there.) “From Lumina’s perspective, this is testing whether it
can be a model,” Merisotis said, adding that it was nice to do
so in Lumina’s home state.
In part, WGU Indiana is being used as a tool to put
pressure on the state’s other institutions to find ways to
both increase degree production and shorten the time it
takes to complete degrees. “A little competition is healthy,”
said Daniels, who has encouraged those institutions to
offer accelerated programs that allow students to earn an
associate’s degree in just one year and a bachelor’s degree in
just three. Over the past few years, the state has also adopted
performance funding that rewards its institutions for degree
production, on-time degrees, low-income degrees and
completed credit hours.
But mostly, WGU Indiana is being promoted, and
perceived, as a complementary educational offering, and a
way to increase Indiana’s educational attainment—without
the use of taxpayer money.
“They’re not competing for scarce dollars,” pointed out
Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education Teresa Lubbers.
“They’re competing for growing numbers of students. So
that made it easier to roll this out.” At its June meeting, the
Commission for Higher Education unanimously approved
a resolution in support of the governor’s executive order that
recognizedWGU Indiana and instructed the commission
to integrate the school’s programs into the state’s higher
education policy and strategy.
More recently, Lubbers penned an opinion piece for
Indiana newspapers in which she highlightedWGU Indiana
as a flexible approach that “allows motivated students to earn
their degrees faster and cheaper than they could otherwise.”
WGU Indiana is also
receiving a boost from
the Indiana Department
of Workforce
Development (DWD),
which Daniels’
executive order
directed to “explore
methods for promoting
online competency-
based educational
opportunities like
WGU Indiana” for
the dislocated workers
and others it serves. In
accordance with that
order, the department is
trying to ensure that its
counselors know about
WGU Indiana, and why
it might be appropriate
for their clientele,
thousands of whom are
eligible for federal Trade
Adjustment Assistance
Dawn Hanson received her bachelor’s degree in nursing
just four months after she enrolled in WGU with an
associate’s degree from Ivy Tech, Indiana’s statewide
community college.
Western Governors
University offers more
than 50 accredited
degree programs in
four high-demand
areas—teaching,
healthcare,
information technology
and business.