Student Success, One by One
If 2020 was the year of the pandemic, 2021 for WGU was the year of living our one-by-one cultural belief: to solve for the individual student and advance outcomes one student at a time. As we reflect on the challenges and triumphs of the past year, we recognize the determination of our hardworking students, the efforts of our dedicated employees, and the goals we are working toward in 2022.
In his annual report message, WGU President Scott Pulsipher recalls the innovation and advancement that focused on student success, as well as the ways WGU is continuing to transform higher education.
Measuring What Matters: WGU's Key Results
2021 Enrollment Demographics
Celebrating WGU’s 250,000th Graduate
In October 2021, Marissa Price of Olympia, Washington, was recognized as WGU’s 250,000th graduate after earning her bachelor’s degree in human resource management.
Price said she faced many obstacles in pursuing her degree but with help from her program mentor, she was able to persist in her studies and finish her program.
“No other school would have given me the time I needed to balance my work and personal life,” said Price. “My advice to anyone out there who wants to go to college is that you have more time than you think you do and resources and support available. I am proof of that. I wanted to climb higher, and now I’m in the field of my chosen career.”
Source: WGU Internal Data
Each year, WGU alumni are surveyed to assess the value they have found in their education. National polling shows that WGU alumni are thriving in comparison to peers that graduated from comparable universities. They are also well-prepared for their careers and are employed in their degree fields at higher rates than alumni in the national sample.
Gallup Alumni Survey
WGU participates in the annual Gallup Alumni Survey to gather feedback on students' academic experiences, career readiness, and wellbeing. The results show that WGU alumni are thriving at much higher rates than their peers, not just in their careers but in all aspects of life.
Survey conducted Nov. 17-Dec. 12, 2021 with responses from 1,238 WGU undergraduate alumni and 1,000 national bachelor’s degree holders.
National Survey of Student Engagement
In a pandemic year that forced WGU and its students to continue to adapt, those who participated in the survey expressed a high level of satisfaction with the university’s efforts to support them while providing a relevant and affordable education.
Survey conducted in 2021 with responses from 211,667 students of 342 institutions.
*As self-reported by alumni at the time of graduation.
Harris Poll—Employer Satisfaction
Prepared for Success
on the Job
From a 2021 Harris Poll of 300 employers of WGU graduates
97% of employers said that WGU graduates were prepared for their jobs.
95% of employers said that they would hire another WGU grad.
98% of employers said WGU graduates met or exceeded expectations.
WGU’s Focus: The Whole Student
Students are at the center of all we do. This means WGU engages students in academically rigorous degree pathways and takes a holistic approach to student support. In 2021, our faculty, mentors, and staff worked diligently to care for our students during another year of difficulty, growth, and recovery. At the same time, WGU pursued projects that, if adopted on a wide scale, will change all of higher education for the better. Those projects include:
Closing education gaps in underserved populations with the help of a $4.9 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Promoting skills-based education and hiring with the help of an $850,000 grant from Walmart.
Assisting students affected by natural disasters and other major events through the Environmental Barriers program.
In her annual message, Chief Academic Officer and Provost Marni Baker Stein reflects on WGU’s efforts over the past year and discusses goals for 2022 and beyond.
College of Business
- The B.S. Business Administration-Accounting degree program is first nationally in bachelor's degree conferrals.*
- The M.S. Accounting degree is second nationally in master's degree conferrals.* WGU graduate accounting students have the top CPA exam pass rate (58%) among leading online-only universities and exceed the pass rates of many leading state schools.**
- The B.S. Business Administration-Human Resources Management degree program enrolls more students than any other undergraduate HR program in the U.S.*
- Our MBA and B.S. Business Administration-Management were listed by the Wall Street Journal as top return on investment programs.
- WGU’s College of Business supports the largest virtual student SHRM chapter in the country, a growing National Black MBA Association Club, and a Facebook group with more than 15,000 members.
* National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
** 2020 National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) Report
Mitsu Frazier, Senior Vice President and Executive Dean, College of Business
College of Information Technology
- Received the National Security Agency’s Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (NSA CAE) designation, joining the top recognized cybersecurity institutions across the country. This designation opens the door to additional opportunities for both WGU and our students.
- Hosted WGU’s first-ever, free Virtual Cyber Camp NYC, led by WGU College of IT faculty members. For a week in July, 31 New York City high school students—including eight young women (26%)—explored the high-stakes world of cyber sleuths and data protection. Twenty-nine participants were from minoritized populations (95%).
- Women in Tech (WIT) club exceeded 1,800 in membership during the first quarter, and launched an alumni group for graduates.
- The WGU chapter of the security-related National Sword and Shield Honors Society reached more than 850 members, making it the largest chapter in the country.
- The student Cyber Club membership topped 5,000 members, and teams competed in the National Cyber League, National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, and the National CyberForce Competition.
Ashutosh Tiwary, Senior Vice President and Executive Dean, College of IT
College of Health Professions
- Designated a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League for Nursing. Only 1% of nursing programs across the United States earn this designation.
- Launched two non-degree offerings through the Center for Professional Learning: Chronic Care Coordination and Behavioral Health Care Coordination.
- Redesigned RN to BSN degree program to include six professional development certificates.
- Launched two post-master certificates in Nursing Education and Nursing Leadership and Management.
- Created a value-based care certificate through the Institute for Advocating Health Care Value and the Center for Professional Learning.
Jan Jones-Schenk, Senior Vice President and Executive Dean, College of Health Professions until her retirement in April 2022.
- Celebrated the 20th anniversary of “from idea to impact" in 2021 and reflected on how WGU’s Teachers College has grown to become the largest college of education in the nation, with more than 67,000 alumni across the U.S. and more than 33,000 active students.
- Helped mitigate national teacher shortages due to the pandemic by serving as a vital pipeline in providing talented next-generation teachers and leaders in communities. The Teachers College graduated more than 13,000 education students in 2021–a 23% increase from 2020–while remaining steadfast in delivering high-quality academic programs and student-centered mentoring support services.
- Continued “flexing in the field” by maintaining more than 2,500 partnerships with school districts across the country to ensure that thousands of education students and demonstration teachers have access to local, high-quality, on-ground research; capstone, clinical, and student teaching experiences; and initial licensure degree programs which prepare students for licensure in all 50 states.
Stacey Ludwig Johnson, Senior Vice President and Executive Dean of the School of Education
WGU Students Respond to HEERF Grants
“This really helped me realign some things for my family and get us situated—childcare mainly. It has a positive snowball effect. I intend to repay this back by paying it forward, engaging my studies, and graduating.”
“The HEERF award was right on time. I was able to put the money toward everyday living expenses. This took a tremendous amount of pressure off of me and brought balance back to my student life and home life. With that new balance I was able to focus more on completing school. I just graduated 12/18/21. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“I felt less stressed about money, because I knew I had money to buy things my kids might need, like warm clothes, formula, diapers.”
WGU Advancement was founded in 2018 to raise funds to break down financial barriers to higher education and accelerate innovation in the higher education sector. In its four years of existence, Advancement has had a major impact on students, both directly and indirectly, through fundraising campaigns for student scholarships and support for skills-based projects such as the Open Skills Network and EdTech innovators at WGU Labs.
3,371 total donors in 2021
- 53% alumni
- 27% faculty and staff
- 16% students
- 4% WGU board members, corporations, foundations, and friends
- 12,087 total gifts received
$15,573,032 in total funds raised
Read more about the work of WGU Advancement in their FY21 Year in Review.
Creating Communities of Care
Many of WGU’s students are working learners who balance the demands of work, family, and school. They are forging their paths through difficult terrain and we are determined to support them in their journey.
WGU works to implement innovative care networks to help students persist in their programs and attain their degrees. These include individualized faculty support, social media groups where students can support each other, and a robust scholarship and financial aid program.
This year, we want to highlight two programs that excelled at student support in 2021: Military Engagement and Outreach, and Environmental Barrier Services.
WGU Is Military-Focused
In 2021, WGU’s Military and Veterans Benefits department increased support staff and enhanced processes for military-affiliated students utilizing education benefits. As a result, WGU increased its opportunity to optimize its military focus and student obsession.
We also expanded the Military Engagement and Outreach team in 2021. The director of military outreach is focused on increasing opportunities and partnerships that enhance the educational experience of military-affiliated students. Additionally, there are eight military outreach strategic partner managers to support regional and local engagement and communicate WGU’s unique offerings to the military and veteran community.
WGU and the Veterans Health Administration are working together to provide a no-cost added service to our veteran students called VITAL (Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership). This program assists veterans through the transition and culture of higher education, addressing physical and mental health and veteran benefits. The partnership provides clinical care and coordination and pairs our veteran students with a peer mentor. This pilot program grew to cover students in two regions in 2021.
WGU has also partnered with the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) to support Air Force and Space Force students. This creates a clear transfer path for students to continue their studies once they have completed their associate degree through the CCAF. WGU has ten approved business and IT programs ready for CCAF enrollment.
Developed from a pilot in 2017, the Environmental Barriers (EVB) Program monitors for natural disasters, major weather events, and public safety issues across the country that may affect WGU students’ lives and proactively responds to provide support.
Weather extremes in the U.S. were prevalent throughout 2021, impacting communities from coast to coast with record heat and cold, drought, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and tropical storms.
Average Retention Rate for Affected Students
In addition to the impact from environmental events, the EVB team supported 13,714 new needs related to COVID-19. Because of the major impact on medical professionals in the months of January, February, March, September, and October, the team began tracking all new, first-time students in the College of Health Professions.
National Scale, Local Impact
In 2019, WGU launched a regional strategy to increase outreach in local communities—meeting students where they are and engaging to solve local, state, and regional workforce challenges. Seven regional teams, led by regional vice presidents, focus on the specific needs of the areas they serve through service opportunities, scholarships and other aid, and the development of relationships with education partners, business leaders, and policymakers.
Welcomed three new state affiliates: Utah, Idaho, and Montana joined Washington as state-based affiliates of WGU in the Northwest. Affiliate status provides expanded access to affordable degree programs for residents of those states, including eligibility for state-based financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
Celebrated the quarter-million graduates milestone: With Washington state as the epicenter of the celebration, the university identified Marissa Price of Olympia as its 250,000th graduate. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources management.
Marked ten years of serving students and building strong communities throughout the Evergreen State: The celebration included a letter of congratulations from Governor Jay Inslee, a mural and unveiling event featuring an inspirational graduate, and a collection of original songs composed by students and alumni about the important impact the university has made on their lives.
Ran the Night Shift Nurse Campaign: This is an annual campaign that celebrates night shift nurses. The focus of the campaign is the renewal of our annual Night Shift Nurse scholarship (recently renamed the Night Shift Scholarship). The region also prepared appreciation kits for healthcare employees and supported more than 2,500 healthcare workers at more than 26 partner hospitals across Indiana alone.
Launched the Teachers Appreciation Campaign: In the lead up to Teacher Appreciation Week we partnered with nonprofits tailored specifically for teachers such as Teacher’s Treasures, which allows teachers to ‘shop’ for needed supplies and materials free of charge. WGU Indiana donated $500 worth of school supplies to the program.
Celebrated National Student Transfer Week: Joined other regions in hosting five webinars, which saw a total of 200 attendees. Outreach made it to nearly 1 million community college/transfer prospects in the WGU funnel. We also hosted an alumni podcast featuring WGU graduate Marah Jordan.
Signed a new partnership with McDonald's to provide restaurant employees degrees at little to no out-of-pocket cost in partnership with Archways to Opportunity. Launching in 2022, it will serve 500 employees.
In response to the pandemic, ramped up Fund My Classroom in three states (MO, IL, KS), where teachers are nominated to have a project funded by WGU. This initiative demonstrates WGU’s corporate citizenship as the teachers don't need to have a WGU connection.
Signed a statewide partnership agreement with South Dakota Technical Schools providing scholarships of up to $2,500 and strong articulation pathways.
- Celebrated WGU Texas’ 10th Anniversary, awarding $100,000 to 10 students across all four colleges and honored the 20,000th graduate, a BSN nursing student. Awarded 1,334 scholarships and $2.88 million across the South Region.
Formed partnerships with eight organizations, including Dallas Independent School District, the second largest ISD in Texas with more than 243 schools.
Established six new partnerships with community-based organizations focused on underserved populations and equitable access (Con Mi MADRE, Found a Way Foundation, Foundation Communities, Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, Latinitas, Via Hope) and created the $5,000 Community Outreach Partner Scholarship for nonprofits. Among the partners, Austin-based nonprofit Con Mi MADRE engages parents in the educational process to help Latinas graduate from high school and enroll in college.
- WGU Tennessee conducted outreach to empower rural residents to further their education:
- Signed a partnership agreement with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association to provide $50,000 in Power Your Future scholarships to the 2.5 million residents served by one of the state’s 23 electric cooperatives.
- Launched a multipronged campaign to promote WGU’s Family Nurse Practitioner program in rural counties, generating 41 WGU Rural Healthcare Scholarship applications and 103 applications during the pilot.
Formed a partnership with Impact Church in the greater Atlanta metro area to offer scholarships and wi-fi hotspots. As a result, applications have increased from underserved students in the area.
Signed partnership agreement with Miami Dade College, which serves approximately 120,000 students across eight campuses in South Florida, and represents 167 nations and 63 languages represented in its student body. The agreement will allow the school’s graduates and employees to apply for the WGU Community College Partnership Scholarship valued at up to $2,500.
WGU and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) launched the TEACH-LEAD San Diego Teacher Pathway Scholarship, designed to eliminate the barriers for future educators. This collaboration will foster homegrown educators and leaders reflective of the diverse student population we serve. The program and scholarship—valued at up to $5,000—are open to new and returning WGU students enrolled with the Teacher's College and employed as a paraeducator with SDUSD.
WGU Nevada launched the Southern Nevada Software Developer Registered Apprenticeship Program, which was recognized by Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen. Students enrolled in the program benefit from the "earn and learn" approach, enabling them to master essential technical and behavioral competencies on the job while assisting Nevada businesses. The initial cohort of 10 apprentices will work with participating employers while they complete a Bachelor of Science, Software Development degree at WGU at no cost.
In partnership with the Los Angeles Chargers, WGU awarded ten one-year full-tuition scholarships. Award recipients were celebrated through in-stadium moments, social media posts, and Chargers.com articles.
Four Northeast Region alumni were among the first WGU alumni to establish scholarships through WGU Advancement to inspire and support specific student populations:
- Jamie Swann and her husband, Ron: The Becca Kenney Scholarship for WGU students with epilepsy
- Anthony Rivera and his business partner, Tony Luna: The Rivera-Luna Scholarship for under-resourced students living in four boroughs of NYC and who want to study business or IT
- Wendell Thomas: The Carol Thomas Scholarship for historically-underrepresented students in the northeast
- Rashaan Green: The Rashaan Green Scholarship for under-resourced students living anywhere in the U.S.
By December 31, 2021, WGU had a cumulative 29,531 graduates in the Northeast Region.
“Trusted partners like Western Governors University ensure all Montanans have access to the workforce training and education they need to succeed, regardless of where they live.”
-Montana Governor Greg Gianforte
What We Believe
We believe in human potential.
We believe in the inherent worth and ability of every individual. Talent is equally distributed; opportunity is not. We were founded to fix that.
We believe in the promise of education.
We believe education is the surest path to opportunity. We want to reinvent education so that every learner can have success.
We believe in our students.
If we provide them a student-centered, radically affordable, high-quality, workforce-relevant education, they will succeed.
Looking to the Future: Innovation
WGU is currently involved in many innovative efforts beyond degree programs. Watch the video to learn more about these initiatives from WGU's president, Scott Pulsipher.
How We Innovate
- WGU Academy
- WGU Labs
- The Open Skills Network
WGU Academy continues to improve student success measures of on-time progress (OTP) and retention through its focus on holistic readiness. In 2021, 2,315 students graduated from the Academy and an additional 6,258 students enrolled.
Data suggests that Academy is most efficacious for learner profiles that exhibit low academic preparation, first-generation background, and high economic stress. A higher proportion of Academy graduates achieved OTP after their first term at WGU:
- 6.9% more Academy graduates achieved OTP after their first term at WGU than those who did not attend Academy
- 8.5% more students of color
- 9.4% more first-generation students
- 7% more low-income students
At the second term mark, the results are even more incredible:
- 14.3% more Academy graduates achieved OTP after their second term at WGU than those who did not attend Academy
- 14.3% more students of color
- 21% more first-generation students
- 12.1% more low-income students
Academy is increasingly becoming a trusted partner for employers, community organizations, and other institutions of higher education. In 2021 it worked with multiple employer partners and partnered with Dahlia's Hope and Weber County Intergenerational Poverty Initiative to enroll new students. Academy collaborated with WGU Advancement and Sentara Healthcare on a pilot to support veterans, active duty military, and their spouses. And it enrolled new students in the OWL Transfer Program, a partnership with community colleges.
WGU Labs Research investigates policy, systems, and technology solutions that will transform learning.
In 2021, the Labs research team examined environmental factors, tools, and strategies that may improve equity, access, and the learner experience through 23 research engagements with 12 different institutions—including key partnerships with WGU’s College of Business, College of IT, Financial Aid, and Alumni Relations. Insights from these studies are fueling the next generation of learning solutions and policies at WGU and beyond.
WGU Labs Product designs high-quality learning technologies and instructional content.
In 2021, Labs built six solutions to major challenges in the education marketplace and here at WGU, including:
- A competency-based evaluation for nursing programs
- An LMS-integrated tool to test instructional materials
- A DA platform that connects parents to educators for assistance in pandemic-remote learning
- A gamified exploration of ethics and social responsibility
Labs’ solutions have supported WGU’s College of Health Professions, Teachers College, WGU Academy, and other university initiatives.
The College Innovation Network (CIN) connects a growing network of post-secondary institutions to uncover and address critical barriers that impede impactful EdTech-driven innovation.
In 2021, CIN recruited an additional seven institutions (13 total) representing more than 250,000 students; developed a multi-phase EdTech needs assessment; piloted and evaluated three EdTech solutions in five member institutions; published groundbreaking EdTech Self-Efficacy research; and held convenings during which members discussed best practices and emerging needs.
The Accelerator at WGU Labs helps promising early stage EdTech startups improve and bring their solutions to market.
In 2021, the Accelerator at WGU Labs invested in and grew 13 EdTech companies valued at more than $120 million, whose solutions address strategic moments in the student lifecycle. This support includes market development, research, and university trials with more than 1.35 million students impacted, including pilots with the WGU’s Alumni Relations, College of Business, and College of Health Professions.
Creating Opportunity by Closing the Skills Gap
The Open Skills Network (OSN) launched in September 2020 to promote a more equitable, skills-based education and hiring ecosystem. Initial funding for the OSN was provided by Walmart.
In 2021, OSN sponsored and supported more than 20 community-led and cross-functional pilot projects that created Rich Skill Descriptors (RSD) libraries. An RSD is a machine-readable, enriched definition of a skill. It includes a contextualized skill statement and other associated metadata that enables the interoperability of skills across digital platforms. The OSN expanded use cases across different industry sectors, including employers, education providers, professional associations, and the military.
The OSN held its inaugural Skills Summit, which hosted more than 300 skills enthusiasts and included a keynote from Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. Summit participants included education providers, employers, military, and tech, all coming together to problem solve around open skills use cases and identify actionable steps for implementation.
WGU and OSN released the Open Skills Management Tool (OSMT), a free open-source software project enabling the development and sharing of open skills libraries. Within the first month of release, more than 40 OSN member organizations accessed the OSMT code for deployment in their own organizations, accelerating open skills implementation across the ecosystem.
WGU is the world's most student-centric university. Established in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors, the nonprofit now serves more than 132,000 students nationwide and has more than 275,000 graduates in all 50 states.
Lifetime Achievement Award
At the ASU+GSV Summit in 2021, former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, former Colorado Governor Roy Romer, and founding WGU President Dr. Robert Mendenhall received the Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of their vision to change the lives of WGU students and their families for the better. The award was presented by WGU’s first graduate, Ginny Kirchner, and recent graduates Salomon Torrescano and Chris Woods.
As part of the celebration, they participated in a conversation with current WGU President Scott Pulsipher and recounted the humble beginnings of what has become the nation's largest online university.
“WGU is doing the world’s most important work: making available education and training to people who do not have access to it, making it available at a cost they can afford, and doing it based on competency, so that you are qualified to do the work that you were trained for.”
- Former Governor and WGU Cofounder Roy Romer