Announcement: WGU Topic on Senate Floor

Announcement - 7/23/07
Commencement Keynote Speaker Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming Remarks on WGU on the U.S. Senate Floor

Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) told the Western Governors University story and his experience at the WGU commencement on Thursday, July 19th, on the U.S. Senate floor. Senator Enzi was the keynote speaker at commencement the weekend prior in Salt Lake City at Abravanel Hall. The senator spoke about WGU just prior to the senate approval of the Higher Education Reconciliation Act by a vote of 78 to 18. He has been a strong supporter of innovation in and access to higher education.

Senator Enzi's Remarks on the U.S. Senate Floor
The following is the full text of his remarks made on the U.S. Senate floor July 19th, 2007.

"Our goal with this bill and the Higher Education Act that we hope to have follow immediately is to make sure there is affordable access for everybody who wants to go to college. Even affordable access for those who have other educational goals following high school, who have some other occupations they want to pursue that requires specialized schools, this bill will help in all of those aspects.

"For those who may think some of these goals are unachievable, I wish to share briefly an experience I had last weekend because I was fortunate to have an opportunity to be a part of the Western Governors University commencement. It was a very memorable day and brought back memories of my own graduation and other graduation ceremonies I have been a part of over the years. This one will stick in my mind for a long time to come because what makes the Western Governors University such a unique institution of higher learning can be reflected in the eyes of those who were graduated.

"The Western Governors University is a school without boundaries. It is a nonprofit school. It was founded and supported by 19 state governors. This is the only time the governors of several states have joined together to create a university.

"It is also supported by more than 20 leading U.S. corporations and foundations. This may be important. It is self-sufficient. Of course, it is only self-sufficient because of some of the provisions we are providing so kids have the opportunity to attend. I keep referring to "kids."' But with this one, I should not be referring to "kids'" because the average age of their students is 38.

"I mention this to encourage everybody that if they want some other job opportunities, there are possibilities. This is one of the possibilities for a person to get some additional education and be covered by what we have in this bill.

"Western Governors University offers a competency-based, regionally accredited college program that is open to just about everybody. That means a student who proves his or her knowledge in a certain subject area does not have to put in seat time to relearn something they already know. Their knowledge of a subject is measured through a series of assessments when they start, and that allows the university to individualize each course and tailor each degree to meet the needs of that particular student.

"The courses are all online. There are no classrooms. It can be taken at the student's own convenience and speed. That is why I am mentioning this university. Everybody does not have access, particularly in the rural areas of this country, to a university. But online, they have access to this and other institutions.

"Tuition is $5,600 a year, and federal education aid and private scholarships are available. There are 20 corporations that provide quite a few scholarships in addition to that federal education aid. That makes a degree from Western Governors University one of the most reasonable college educations you can get, especially when you studying while holding down a job. In that situation, your room and board is probably your home.

"When a student is accepted by the university, they are assigned an instructor, a mentor, a counselor who will work with them and help them make their way through the studies. That individual stays with them the whole time they are in the university and keeps in touch for a year beyond their graduation to help with placement and problems they may experience.

"The course is designed so that those who have other obligations in their life—children, a job or other responsibilities that make a traditional education impossible—can still get their undergraduate or master's degree while keeping true to their day-to-day obligations and responsibilities. A lot of people have to hold down a job in order to feed their family, yet would like to be able to improve their situation. This college makes that possible.

"When their studies are completed, their tests have been taken and the degrees have been earned, the whole university comes together to honor the graduating class. That is the ceremony I was a part of and a day I will not forget. The university student body is quite diverse. The campus stretches through all 50 States on the Internet. In addition, the fact that the university serves active-duty military personnel overseas stretches this university without boundaries all around the world.

"The students I visited with on graduation day came from cities, suburbs, and rural areas. The average age is 40, but they range from the twenties to the sixties. The university makes it clear that you are never too old to pursue a degree or return to college to get additional education to get a better job or begin a new career.

"In November 2000, Western Governors University graduated its first student. It is a new university. Since then, the university has grown and attracted more and more students to its programs. Now, a few years after the first graduate earned a degree, WGU graduates more than 400 students each year in a growing number of degree programs.

"The school keeps in touch with its graduates to check on how the degrees they have earned have helped to improve their lives. They also have a very active alumni association that helps former students to continue to achieve and set new goals in their careers and pick up additional courses.

"At each graduation ceremony I have attended, I have always found that what makes each school unique is its student body. Western Governors University was no exception to the rule. I was greatly interested in the remarks that were offered by four students who spoke at the graduation representing their class.

"I mention these again to emphasize there is a way in the United States to get higher education no matter what your circumstances.

"One of them wanted to be a teacher. It was a dream the university made possible because their flexibility made her course schedule fit into her life schedule. She already had a son and a job, and she spoke about her work with the teaching program. She had to do student teaching, just like everybody does, and one day she told one of the students in her class how smart he was. He beamed and said, ``You know, I wasn't smart until you came.'' That is what sold her on a teaching career. She could see in his eyes he had come to believe in himself because someone else believed in him. She spoke of the importance of using your gifts and talents to encourage others to be the best they can be.

"When it comes down to it, that is the sum of what an education is all about, learning to reach out to others so we use all our gifts and talents to make this a better world. Under this bill, there is the capability, if you are dedicating yourself in these areas, to take advantage of some special benefits that are available.

"Another graduate spoke with pride at how hard he worked to earn his degree and how every moment had been worth it. He too had a family. He mentioned the logic of an online university having a football team and suggested that would truly be fantasy football. For him, one of the most important parts of the experience had been the mentors who worked with him, supported him, and shared his joy when he earned his degree. He was certain his degree would open doors for him and change his life. He was looking forward to getting involved in the alumni program so everyone in his class, and others, could keep in touch and follow each other's successes.

"At traditional universities, that is an even more important part of college life, keeping in touch and following each other's successes.

"Another speaker told of the difficulties we all face, and said, "Don't ever tell me you don't have time in your life or that it is too tough.'" Her philosophy reminded me of a favorite motto of my own family—TIGAPA which stands for "Trust in God and Push Ahead" because that is exactly what she has done. Despite the problems she has had to face, which was the loss of two of her children and a husband who was facing several health problems, she forged ahead, worked at her own pace, and earned her degree.

"Another speaker who had a message to share was Ngozika Ughanze from Texas—originally from Nigeria—who was one of 10 children. Her father was very concerned about his children and the importance of their schooling so he sent all 10 to school to learn English. It started her on the road to higher education that she has continued to follow all her life. In her words, "The more I learn, the more I want to learn.'" She left Nigeria with her husband in 1997 because they wanted to get their own piece of the cake. She said, "I believe if you work hard, then you are able to live here.'"

"The problem for her, as it was and is for so many, was finding the time to get it done. The only way she could make any progress was to cut things out of her schedule. That meant giving up some of her favorite things, such as television and shopping. It wasn't going to be easy to pursue a college education because of her obligations to her family—she has seven children—but she made it happen. She made it happen despite having to relocate four times because of Hurricane Katrina. She made it happen despite missing some deadlines, which meant she had to work harder to catch up, again because of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which also got involved in it. She made it happen because she refused to accept any other outcome.

"She used her family time to study with her children. She enjoyed getting them involved almost as much as her children loved being a part of their mommy's project. As she received her degree, three of her own children are attending college and one day will receive their own degrees.

"There were nearly 90 graduates in the hall, representing 29 States, but the ones watching online and getting their diploma online represent 42 states and 2 countries and ranged from 22 to 63 in age. A remarkable group of men and women. Although I have only noted the dreams of a few, each of them had their own story to tell about their degree, how they earned it, what they planned to do with it, and how they hoped to use what they learned to make the world a better place.

"I was very pleased to be a part of that ceremony that honored such a spirited group for having laid the groundwork for a great life. They are all to be congratulated for earning their degrees and for making another of their life's dreams come true. That is what we want for the people of the United States, regardless of age. It doesn't matter whether you are 22 or 18 or 63 or 94. I got to see a diploma given to a man this spring who was 94 and who was pleased to finally get his degree. That is possible in America, and this bill helps to make that dream a reality in conjunction with the hard work of the students.

"It isn't easy, and it is even more difficult if you are in situations where you have a family, you have a job, and you have to maintain those to maintain your family. So we are doing what is possible to make that burden as easy as possible, and we hope we will have a lot of support. We would encourage people who have amendments to get those down here so we can complete this in a timely manner so we can do the other 80 percent of higher education that also needs to be done and that we have been hoping to get done since last year.

"So our work is cut out for us, but from these examples, you can see the people out there are worth working for. We owe it to them. We have the chance to do this, so let us do it now.

"I yield the floor."