For busy, working adults, a flexible, competency-based online university like WGU is often the best bet for earning a degree—even, sometimes, for people who work at a traditional university.
Chris Dann of Port Orange, Florida, was in just that boat. He had been an IT professional for 14 years but had no degree and no industry certifications—nothing to prove just how much he knew. "In order to get any type of management position, you needed a bachelor’s degree," he said.
He worked for a state university in Florida, but he worked at a satellite office and would have had to drive an hour to attend classes at the main campus.
"I couldn't do that with the kids and the family and everything I had going on," said the 42-year-old father of two teenage boys busy with football and other extracurricular activities. "I needed to have the flexibility to be there. WGU offered that."
It was his boss who helped him identify WGU as the solution he was looking for. How did she know the competency-based online IT bachelor’s degree program at WGU would work for someone like Chris? First-hand experience—she herself had graduated from WGU.
Chris had dabbled in online education before. He had begun coursework at another school but dropped out because the cost was too high and it functioned too much like a traditional university—lots of busy work, group projects, and other limitations that translated to no more flexibility than a brick-and-mortar school.WGU gave him what he needed in a format that worked for him.
For one thing, the program was self-paced. He didn’t have to work on a professor’s schedule or be held back by other students. "I’m that kind of person. After 14 years of doing this, I needed a program where I could sit down and if I wanted to go 110% and knock down a class here and there as quick as I could, I could do it."
He completed 24 competency units (WGU’s version of credits) during his first six-month term because his work experience gave him enough background knowledge to accelerate through several courses and certifications—certifications which, by the way, were included as part of his coursework and covered by his low flat-rate tuition of $2,890 per term.
"The fact that the IT program has nine certifications along with the degree, it was pretty much a no-brainer," Chris said. "There’s really nothing out there that offers that type of program—industry certifications with the degree."
Today, he’s just one course away from graduating, and he expects to be done by the end of the year.
"I just have to pass my Windows 7 certification and I’m graduated. Hopefully by Christmastime, I’ll have the present under my tree of a bachelor’s degree."
And his education is already paying off: "I started out as a computer specialist with the state university here. Now I’m a senior computer specialist, so I got a promotion," he said. "Everything I’ve learned throughout the entire program, I’ve been able to apply to stuff at work—whether it be project management, IT stuff, the hands-on stuff. And a lot of work stuff has helped me with school as well."
Even more exciting? Graduation has become sort of a family affair. His sons are both preparing to graduate from high school this year, as well, so the pride of hard work and the value of an education has become a shared value and a bonding opportunity for the family. "They’re excited because I’m graduating with them."
And as a busy professional-slash-student, he’s been able to set that example his high-schoolers needed.
"I can use it as a bargaining token: 'If I'm going to work and I'm doing my homework, you guys should be able to do football and get your homework done,'" Chris said.
Chris praises the relevance of his IT program’s curriculum, the flexibility WGU provided, the support he received from his mentors and other WGU staff, and the opportunities his degree has opened up for him and his family.
"I highly recommend it," he said. "I’m probably one of WGU’s biggest promoters. Wherever I go, anyone who’s looking to further their career, I’m constantly promoting WGU. The one-on-one with the mentors, the validity and strength of the program, the help that’s there when you need it—everything about WGU is fantastic."