This is the second in a series that will profile members of WGU North Carolina’s inaugural Board of Advisors.
Maria Pitre-Martin, Ph.D. knows what it takes to not let one’s past determine one’s future. Raised in Eunice, La., a town of fewer than 12,000 residents, Dr. Pitre-Martin was raised by a father who earned his GED when she was in elementary school and a mother with an eighth-grade education. They impressed upon her the value of education and the importance of working hard to put yourself in a position to capitalize on opportunities.
And capitalize she did. After completing a bachelor’s degree in speech education and a master’s in organizational communication at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, she earned a Ph.D. in educational administration from Texas A&M University. Over her career, Dr. Pitre-Martin has served in a wide range of positions in education, including teacher, principal, chief academic officer, school superintendent, and adjunct professor. Only two years after joining the N.C. Department of Public Instruction as Chief Academic Officer, she was appointed to be a Deputy State Superintendent, a post she’s held since 2017.
Interestingly, I didn’t even know this was an opportunity when I was first approached. I’d heard of WGU from TV commercials, and I knew some folks who knew people in the program. But when a person of [WGU North Carolina Chancellor] Catherine Truitt’s caliber got involved, then I took an interest. Leadership matters, and when she reached out to me and asked me to serve on the board, I immediately said yes. At the end of the day, it was the combination of Catherine’s leadership, my work at DPI, WGU’s excellent reputation, and the school’s expertise in competency-based education, or CBE, that brought me to the board.
First and foremost, I think WGU’s ability to serve nontraditional students is critical. In the K-12 education world, we often push students to go to college right after high school because “it’s the thing to do,” whether or not they’re prepared educationally or maturity-wise. Times have changed. It’s time to help our citizens who want to take different paths to higher education. For example, WGU can serve the people who decide to work for several years, start a family or serve in military first, and then pursue a university degree when it makes sense for them. It’s important for us in North Carolina to recognize that the nontraditional is what may become the traditional in a few years.
WGU also stands out in how — and how well — they do CBE. Instead of painting everyone with the same brush, they make knowledge what’s most important to measure, and then they let people demonstrate that knowledge. We as a state must get to that point.
The business models for many higher-education institutions are not designed to accommodate the CBE model. I believe all of higher education should look at a different business model that’s not built on taking courses just to take courses. We also need to emphasize and strengthen the advisement and mentoring components of education. It’s important to keep people engaged in their education, and as WGU has proven, incorporating opportunities to interact virtually with students through communication technology can help them navigate undergraduate and graduate studies more successfully.
A key challenge facing rural North Carolinians is access. Access to jobs, access to educational opportunities, access to healthcare — access to countless other resources that residents of more urban communities can count upon. For example, many rural residents don’t have access within 40 to 60 miles of a four-year institution. They might be able to drive to a community college, but the time and distance involved to get there for classes often poses hurdles that are too high to overcome.
It’s vital that North Carolina makes higher education more accessible and affordable across our state. People having higher education just broadens the scope for any community in terms of the quality of life, and the ability for the economy to grow both through established businesses and entrepreneurship.
Everyone. There are so many North Carolinians who are working and know there’s something better out there for them, but unfortunately, they can’t stop working to pursue higher education. So, we need influencers and decision makers in government, business and education across the state to learn the facts about what WGU offers and why it’s uniquely positioned to help citizens improve their lives and North Carolina as a whole.
For example, there are so many teacher assistants in the state who would love to become teachers themselves. But most of them can’t do that within the traditional four-year college model. They need a different model, a non-traditional one, so they don’t have to quit their day jobs to earn the education they need to move forward.
It’s critically important that we don’t let assumptions or unwarranted concerns get in the way of helping North Carolina’s families. There is need out there, and we have a responsibility to help families grow and thrive.