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States are facing increasing pressure on their budgets, causing them to cut funding for higher education, just as we need more focus on college completion than ever before. Governors are looking for unique solutions that will make college more accessible and affordable for their citizens without impacting their already-strained budgets. In June, the state of Indiana and Western Governors University formed a partnership to create a new kind of university for Indiana, WGU Indiana. Announced by Governor Mitch Daniels and chartered in the state of Indiana, WGU Indiana is a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Governors University offering all of the WGU degrees under the current accreditation of WGU. The new university operates with no funding from the state of Indiana and is selfsustaining on tuition. WGU Indiana students are eligible for financial aid from the State Student Assistance Commission of Indiana.
"Today we mark the beginning of, in a real sense, Indiana's 8th state university," said Governor Daniels. "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 wanted and needed, on a schedule they can manage, at a cost they can
"In many ways, WGU Indiana is fulfilling the vision of the governors who created WGU," said WGU President Bob Mendenhall. "Western Governors University was established to serve as a resource to the states by expanding educational opportunities to adults not served by traditional higher education. WGU Indiana demonstrates how our university is supporting states' needs by providing degree programs with high value in the workplace at no cost to the states."
The Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Lilly Endowment provided funding of over $1.7 million for the launch of WGU Indiana. "WGU Indiana is a great example of the innovative thinking that is very much needed in higher education today," said Jamie Merisotis, President of the Lumina Foundation for Education. "Its online, competencybased approach to learning shows great promise as a costeffective model for delivering quality higher education."
WGU Indiana has established a partnership with the Ivy Tech, Indiana's community college system. Created to enable Ivy Tech graduates to transfer to WGU Indiana seamlessly, the partnership offers tuition discounts, an application fee waiver, scholarships, and a generous transfer policy. "As we strive to create a seamless education system for Hoosiers, we are grateful to have yet another wonderful transfer option for our students," said Ivy Tech Community College President Thomas J. Snyder.
Allison Barber, a native Hoosier and former elementary school teacher with more than 20 years of experience in education and public service, has been appointed Chancellor of WGU Indiana. WGU Indiana operates with the support and guidance of an Indiana Advisory Board that includes:
Nearly 2,000 graduates, guests, faculty, and staff attended WGU's Summer 2010 Commencement, which was held July 17 in Salt Lake City. Dr. Martha Kanter, U.S. Under Secretary for Education, delivered the commencement address, praising WGU as a "modern, affordable, flexible, studentfocused university."
Degrees were awarded to 1,279 students at the semi-annual commencement, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The university conferred 714 bachelor's and post-baccalaureate and 565 master's degrees in Business, Teacher Education, Information Technology, and Healthcare, including Nursing. More than 200 of the graduates received their degrees in person; those unable to attend had the opportunity to participate live via streaming video through the Internet.
In her remarks, Dr. Kanter acknowledged the contribution that WGU is making in helping the nation reach its goal to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. She recognized the impact that WGU is having on higher education in America: "As education increasingly embraces the power of online learning, universities like WGU won't seem nontraditional at all. They will likely become the norm."
Utah Governor Gary Herbert, one of the university's member governors, introduced Dr. Kanter. Former Utah Governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who led WGU's founding governors, also attended the ceremony.
Four graduates of the university shared their experiences as students at WGU: Michael Varno of Atlanta, Georgia, is a young information technology professional who earned his bachelor's degree in IT while working full time. Stephanie Blaine of Sheridan, Missouri, is a registered nurse who lives in a remote rural community and was able to earn her master's degree in nursing while working in a local hospital and teaching at a local college. Chevon Wallace of Austell, Georgia, a small business owner, spoke about the challenges she had faced in finding a college that would allow her to meet her obligations while working toward a degree.
In June, WGU completed another year of astonishing growth and achievement. During the 12-month period from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010, 2,268 bachelor's, post-baccalaureate, and master's degrees were awarded, a 51% increase over the previous year. In the ten years since the university conferred its first degree, the number of WGU graduates has grown to nearly 7,000. Enrollment has continued to climb by more than 35%—the number of WGU students exceeded 20,000 in September. Revenue for the university grew by 45%, and WGU continues to be self-sustaining on tuition which has not increased in more than two years. WGU now employs more than 1,000 faculty and staff members who live and work all over the United States.
During the past year, the primary focus for the university continued to be student success. Overall student satisfaction increased for the third year in a row to 96%. WGU also met or exceeded its goals for other key measures such as retention rates and the percentage of students who are achieving satisfactory academic progress. The university awarded more than 850 scholarships-valued at over $3.5 million-including more than 100 scholarships for displaced workers.
Other noteworthy accomplishments and events in FY 2010 include:
Sarah Weston, a math teacher at the Open High School of Utah and a Western Governors University graduate, was named Educator of the Year for 2009-2010 by the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. Sarah, who received her Master of Arts in Mathematics Education at WGU, is one of two teachers chosen from Utah's 72 charter schools and the first online teacher to receive the award.
As the first online teacher to receive this award, Sarah has set a high standard for innovative teaching. "I can't emphasize enough how well WGU prepared me to be an effective teacher online," said Sarah. "One of the most important things I learned, which has translated into my current teaching position, is how flexible this type of learning can be. My experience at WGU gave me the perspective I need to tailor my courses to meet the needs of all types of students."
DeLaina Tonks, director for the Open High School of Utah, says the award is especially meaningful because it helps eliminate common misconceptions about online learning—that online teachers don't connect with their students and that online learning is little more than workbooks being read on a computer screen. "Sarah has made real connections with her students and instilled a love of learning math that was not there before. She has used technology to make her curriculum dynamic and engaging," said Tonks.
WGU has begun enrolling students in Utah for its B.S. in Nursing (Prelicensure) program. The program, which was approved by the Utah Board of Nursing in June, is being offered in partnership with seven hospitals located in rural communities in Utah. Aimed at addressing the shortage of registered nurses in rural Utah communities, the program is open to qualified applicants who live and work in these communities.
"This program allows students to complete their studies and their clinical requirements without leaving their homes and families. The program provides each student with one-on-one coaching, clinical instruction, individualized mentoring by qualified nursing faculty and learning lab experiences using simulation," said Jan Jones-Schenk, WGU Director of Nursing.
The nation's first online, competency-based bachelor's degree program designed to prepare students for initial licensure as registered nurses, the B.S. in Nursing (Prelicensure) program was launched in 2009 and is operating in select locations in California and Texas. It was developed with the support and partnership of the U.S. Department of Labor, the California Workforce and Labor Development Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Utah Department of Workforce Services and major healthcare partners, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, HCA, Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West and Tenet Healthcare. The program operates under the guidance of a National Advisory Committee comprised of leaders in nursing and nursing education:
A small business owner with more than 12 years of business and technology experience, Chevon Wallace always planned to get her bachelor's degree, and this year, she achieved her goal. Finishing her degree was a long journey for Chevon. A battle with cancer in her teens delayed her graduation from high school by more than ten years. After she started her own event planning and project management business in Atlanta, Chevon began looking for a way to get her bachelor's degree in business. "A lot of people wondered why I would go back to school, because I have been successful in what I do, but it was something I had to do for myself," said Chevon.
Chevon searched for a university that would allow her to continue to operate her business while she worked toward her degree. "I needed a school that would accept the college credits I had already earned," said Chevon. "I didn't have the time to devote two hours, three nights a week for three months to dedicate to [attend class at] a traditional college." Chevon enrolled in WGU's Business Management program.
While she was managing her own business and going to school, Chevon took on the additional challenge of becoming a nanny for her two nephews after one of them was diagnosed with autism. "There were times when I was not able to do as much work or finish as many courses as I wanted to during a particular term," said Chevon. "But the opportunity and flexibility were always there."
Chevon says the support she received from her mentor was key to her success at WGU. "She's the one who pushed me along when I would fall back, and I would say 'I can't, I'm tired.' She was extremely knowledgeable, and she really, really cared," said Chevon.
Selected as a student speaker for WGU commencement in July 2010, Chevon says she is excited to finally have her degree. "I didn't know what to expect, but the feeling is worth more than any piece of paper could ever mean. It's knowing that you did the work and focused and got it done. I had a lot of great support along the way." Chevon still operates her own business and has recently enrolled in the MBA program at WGU.
Michael Varno has always been exceptionally good with technology. After high school, he immediately started working for a few small computer businesses, eventually going to work for the Internal Revenue Service as a Senior Technical Security Specialist—all without earning a degree. While he had established a good career, as he looked at opportunities for advancement, he came to the realization that he needed a degree if he wanted to move into management.
Michael tried some local universities and even some online programs, but none of them fit into his life—his job required frequent travel, making it impossible to attend classes. Several of his friends recommended WGU. He researched WGU and decided that the competency-based model, which allowed him to study on his own schedule, take advantage of what he already knew, and accelerate, was ideal for him. "When I looked at other universities, I did not feel like I would be able to take advantage of my 11 years of IT experience while working toward my degree, and then I came across WGU," said Michael.
"The biggest challenge about being a student at WGU was balancing a successful career while completing my studies," said Michael. Always ambitious, he took advantage of his prior education and experience and worked very hard to complete his degree in just two terms. "My most memorable moment [at WGU] was the completion of my IT security capstone. The feedback and score that I received really emphasized my experience and has given me technical credibility in my profession," said Michael.
After completing his B.S. in Information Technology, Michael was promoted to IT Operations Manager, where he leads and trains others within his company. "If I had gone through a traditional university, I would not have had this opportunity until years down the road," said Michael in his graduation speech at WGU's 2010 Summer commencement ceremony.
"This was a big personal accomplishment. I always wanted to jump head first into a career without worrying about any education," said Michael. "Being at WGU has invigorated me to want to pursue more education." Michael has now enrolled in WGU's MBA in IT Management.
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