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money, which could conceivably cover the entire cost of a
WGU degree. “In this business of a transforming economy,
you’ve got to constantly adjust your portfolio of tools,” said
DWD Commissioner Mark Everson. “So we’re delighted we’re
going to give this an emphasis.”
Also happy is Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech, which
earlier this year had approved an articulation agreement with
WGU, prior to the establishment of WGU Indiana. Ivy Tech’s
enrollment has doubled in the past five years, to 110,000,
and it transfers 10,000 students annually; the hope is to
double that number. “We’re going to do everything we can to
encourage students
to pursue this,”
Snyder said. One
way the schools are
working together:
WGU Indiana
will waive the $65
application fee and
give a five percent
tuition discount to
Ivy Tech transfers.
“It’s a great
option for our
students,” said Sandy
Ward, director of
the transfer center
at Ivy Tech-Central
Indiana, in Indianapolis, where WGU Indiana promotional
materials are prominently displayed. And it helps that WGU
Indiana has a local recruiter who’s often on campus, she
said, because many of Ivy Tech’s students are first-generation
college-goers who aren’t always comfortable negotiating a
path to higher education. “Our students want that one-on-
one contact,” Ward said.
Ward’s ties toWGUmay soon go beyond the students
that come into her office seeking to transfer. Although
she had never heard of WGU until WGU Indiana was
established, she quickly became so enamored with its
approach that she recommended it to her 29-year-old son,
who attended but never graduated from Ivy Tech; now he’s
planning to enroll as soon as January. Ward also said she’d
heard of some Ivy Tech instructors who were planning to
enroll at WGU Indiana to earn their master’s degrees. “There’s
a lot of interest,” she said.
But within the halls of the state’s other institutions,
there hasn’t been much buzz about WGU Indiana, said Jo
Ann Gora, president of Ball State University, which has a
significant online presence, with 20 online degree programs
and 6,600 students. The governor advised the state’s
institutional leaders about his plans for WGU Indiana prior
to announcing them, but since then, “there really hasn’t been
much conversation about it,” Gora said. “I think everybody is
used to the idea that there will be alternate providers.” And if
more providers mean more degrees, then that’s a good thing,
she said.
Still, the governor’s public endorsement of WGU Indiana
did raise a few eyebrows. “Some people have questioned
why he would tape a commercial for one public university
and not another,” Gora said. Given his role onWGU’s
board of directors, and his commitment to providing more
online options within the state, she doesn’t see his actions as
inappropriate. But, she added, “I’d love the governor to come
on the air and promote our program.”
Some legislators were also taken off guard by the
governor’s press conference announcing the establishment of
the state’s “eighth university.”
“People were like, ‘Huh?’” said state Representative Peggy
Welch, a Democrat from Bloomington who serves on the
bipartisan budget committee that oversees state expenditures.
At the committee’s September meeting, members from both
parties expressed concerns, she said. They wanted to know
whether any state dollars were being used for this online
university “that’s calledWestern Governors University,” Welch
added (with emphasis on “western”), and whether WGU
Indiana would compete with the state’s existing institutions.
Those questions and concerns were addressed in the October
meeting, Welch said, when
Barber gave a presentation
explaining that no state
dollars were used to create or
sustainWGU Indiana, and
that the school is meant to
complement, not compete
with, the state’s existing
“I still have questions
about limited resources and
how we’re using those, but
I don’t know that I have a
problemwithWGU,” Welch
said. “If it’s helping people
achieve the education and
training they need to get a
job and rise up the ladder, so
be it.”
That isWGU’s
overarching goal. WGU is,
first and foremost, “about
demonstrating a newmodel of
higher education that is more
efficient andmore effective,”
saidMendenhall, who
has been withWGU since
1999, and whose leadership there recently earned him the
prestigious HaroldW. McGraw Prize in Education. “We’d love
to have [this model] serve millions of students,” he said. That’s
far more thanWGU alone can handle, but however it’s done,
Mendenhall said, “I do think other states will adopt this model,
or something like it, because it makes somuch sense.”
Freelance writer KathyWitkowsky lives inMissoula, Montana.
With enrollment
increasing a whopping
30 percent annually,
WGU is predicting it
will grow from
21,000 students to
30,000 within the
next few years.
Kara Tanner is hoping that she can leverage her
knowledge of literature and history to get through
WGU Indiana’s program in just three years.