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Fiscal year 2009 has been one of unprecedented growth and progress for WGU. The university surpassed annual goals for enrollment, met financial goals while keeping tuition low, added new degree programs, and continued to earn important accreditations and recognition.
Key FY 2009 accomplishments:
In July, WGU received more national recognition when NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams featured the university in its series called "What Works." The two-and-a-half minute story, which highlighted the advantages of attending WGU and getting an online degree, particularly during a recession, included interviews with two recent graduates and WGU President Bob Mendenhall. The featured graduates were elementary school teacher Angie Gonzalez of Miami, Florida, and Scott Saunders, Chief Security Officer for Northern California Electric Utility, an IT graduate who is now pursuing his master's degree at WGU.
In addition to the Nightly News, NBC also ran the story on weekend editions of the Today Show. This national television coverage generated a great deal of interest--when the story aired on July 17, traffic to WGU's website increased by a phenomenal 97%.
With Nearly 900 Degrees Awarded, WGU Celebrates Its Largest Group of Graduates to Date
On July 11, Western Governors University awarded 514 bachelor's and post-baccalaureate and 377 master's degrees—the largest number for any six-month period since the university's founding—during its 17th semi-annual commencement. More than 130 graduates from 30 states attended the graduation ceremonies in person, while the rest were able to participate online.
Dr. Samuel H. Smith, president emeritus of Washington State University, delivered the commencement address and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree for his long-time support of WGU. A founding member of WGU's Board of Trustees, Dr. Smith served as president of Washington State University for 15 years.
"After having a chance to visit with some of the graduates and their families, I can't tell you how proud I felt to see how individuals changed their lives by having access to this high quality education. After years of study, they have shown a level of academic success and discipline that makes them the best graduates who are coming out of any university in the country," Smith said.
As part of each commencement program, graduates are selected to speak and shared their WGU experiences. In many cases, their stories are inspirational as they relate the challenges and obstacles they have overcome to earn their degrees. July's speakers were Dolores Northrup, B.S.RN, from Boerne,TX; Meenu Arora, MBA, Healthcare Management, from Campbell, CA; Tammy Ramsey, B.A., Interdisciplinary Studies (Elementary Education) from Rossville, GA; and Daniel Adam Freeman, B.S., Business Management, from Gilbert, AZ.
As part of a multi-year project aimed at improving the educational success of low income young adults, WGU has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study how to increase retention and graduation among the university's lowincome students aged 18 to 26. The grant funds will be used to research the effectiveness of the WGU model for students in this age and income category, identify interventions that will improve success rates for them, and engage in advocacy efforts focused on increasing access to technologydelivered, competency-based education.
The goal of the research will be to identify students who are best suited to the WGU academic model and to determine if the model can be broadened to better serve a larger number of young, low-income students. The research will compare the population of WGU's young adult students to the general young adult population to understand the differences between students who choose WGU versus those who choose more traditional institutions. In addition, learner profiles of young adult students will be developed using admissions screening results and placement tests, and student success will be tracked over time to identify the characteristics of students who are most successful at WGU. Based in part on the results of the research, specific interventions will be developed to help increase student success, including lower student-mentor ratios, additional academic preparatory materials, counseling services, and financial incentives.
A recent Gates Foundation-commissioned study conducted by Leo Burnett identified the challenge of juggling work and class schedules as one of the largest hurdles facing young people as they try to earn a degree. Many of these students say their preference is for an accelerated program that will help them gain critical skills and join the workforce quickly so they can support their families. WGU's flexible, competency-based model is ideal for young adults who are working and handling family obligations while trying to further their education. "WGU is committed to developing education models that work for young American college students who can't attend a traditional college or have to work," said WGU President Robert Mendenhall. "This grant will help us identify and implement the interventions that will help these students successfully complete their education."
WGU's innovative new nursing degree program, the B.S. in Nursing (Prelicensure) is now under way—the first 30 students began in Southern California in July, and, in October, 17 students began their studies in Texas. The program, which combines WGU's online, competency-based academic model with clinical simulations and in-hospital clinical experiences, is the result of the collaboration of WGU, federal and state agencies, and healthcare institutions.
California hospitals participating in the program include Cedars Sinai Medical Center and Tenet Healthcare's hospitals Riverside Community and Fountain Valley Regional. Partner hospitals in Texas are HCA's Centennial Medical Center, Doctors Hospital at White Rock Lake, Lake Pointe Medical Center, Mainland Medical Center, and Clear Lake Regional Medical Center.
In April of this year, the new B.S.R.N. program was approved by the California Board of Nursing, and in July, the program received approval from the Texas Board of Nursing. Enrollment for the next cohort of students, which begins in January, is in progress.
Partners in the program, which was developed as part of the Multi-State Approach to the Preparation of Registered Nurses, or MAP-RN, include the U.S. Department of Labor, the California Workforce and Labor Development Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Catholic Healthcare West, Hospital Corporation of America, Kaiser Permanente, Tenet Healthcare, and Universal Health Services.
WGU announced its own form of stimulus program in May—The Economic Turnaround Scholarship. Created to help workers who have lost their jobs in the past year go back to college to earn a bachelor's or master's degree, the scholarship program offers between $5,000 and $7,500 per student (awards range between $1,000 and $1,500 per six-month term for up to five terms). The initial scholarship offering extended to August, but it was reopened in October due to high demand. To date, more than $351,000 has been awarded to 60 total awardees.
"Getting people back to work must be the top priority for education, government, and industry," said WGU President Robert Mendenhall. "We've committed the funds to this scholarship program to help unemployed workers, who may not have the financial resources to go back to school right now, complete their degrees and become more competitive in the job market."
The unemployment rate continues to be significantly lower for individuals with college degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for high school graduates is 8.2 percent, while the rate for those with bachelor's degrees is 4.1 percent.
Philip Breiding enlisted in the Marine Corps immediately after high school, training in defensive air traffic control. As he neared the end of his military service, Philip knew that he wanted to become a teacher. While still on active duty, Philip attended a presentation by a representative from the Troops to Teachers Program, where he learned about WGU. After researching some of the options for earning his teaching degree, Philip chose WGU, and five months later, he enrolled into the B.A. in Science Education program.
"WGU's affordability was the biggest selling point for me. The price can't be beat. I looked at otherschools, and they were five times the cost with half the reputation that WGU has," Philip said.
A year and a half later, Philip finished his degree and his teaching credential. He got a demanding job teaching physical science and biology to high-risk ninth graders, many of them ESL (English as a Second Language) in a school near Denver. But Philip wasn't finished with his education—he knew he wanted to earn his M.A. While the GI Bill® funded his undergraduate work, Philip needed another way to pay for his master's degree.
"I am a young guy making a first-year teacher's salary, and someday my wife and I want to have kids. I didn't want college debt to stop that."
Philip searched WGU's website for scholarship opportunities and applied for the Qwest Excellence in Education Scholarship. He was awarded the scholarship and was able to complete his master's degree.
In November, Philip was featured, teaching in his classroom, in a story broadcast by Denver's NBC TV affiliate. Philip said, "Without the flexible schedule that WGU offers, I don't think I would have been able to finish my degree. But, I was learning a lot. It's probably harder than a more traditional university."
"WGU has trained me to be a master teacher. Other veteran teachers have already commented on the way I run my classroom and are surprised that I have this skill being since I am so new to the teaching profession," he said. "The principals recognize the type of learning environment I create for my students and the confidence WGU has given me to stay in control of my class. As a result, I was chosen as Rookie of the Year from 21 new teachers."
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
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A first-generation Mexican-American, Jose Gracia Medrano has always been exceptional. At 18, he earned a full-ride scholarship to Northwestern University's medical program. He has appeared on—and won—several television games shows. He's served in the Navy and held a number of responsible management positions in finance and banking. But despite these achievements, Jose had never completed his bachelor's degree. At least, not until earlier this year.
After his first year at Northwestern, Jose's father suffered a stroke, forcing him to quit school to help support his large family. Throughout the years, he was always able to prove his knowledge and know-how to employers without a degree.
But, a few years ago, Jose started thinking about going back to school to earn his degree. "I was able to hold a number of senior-level positions in banking and financial companies without a degree, but there was always a barrier I could never break through, and now I wanted to. I needed that piece of paper," he said.
Jose began looking for a school that would allow him to apply his knowledge and experience to earn his degree. He found WGU a few years ago, but wasn't able to enroll then—his wife and two children were all in college at the time. So, once again, he put his plans on hold.
In January 2009, Jose was finally able to start his studies at WGU. In his first conversation with his mentor, Jose told him that he would complete all of the coursework required for his B.S. in Accounting in one term. His mentor was skeptical at first, but agreed to allow Jose to move through the program at his own pace. Jose was able to complete degree in just one term, attending WGU's commencement in July. Jose is enrolled in WGU's MBA program, and once he's completed his master's degree, he plans to prepare to take the CPA exam.
"WGU was the answer to all of the prayers I have had in the last 33 years. I could finally do something at my own pace that could validate the knowledge that I already had, and I would have an accredited degree to show for it," he said.
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