What are the greatest barriers to accessing higher education? Ambition and desire do not necessarily top the list. Cost, complex financial aid processes, location, time, and a lack of support are more often to blame for making college an insurmountable dream. WGU is working to overcome these barriers to ensure every student with the ambition and desire has access to a viable higher ed option.
Financial burden is considered the biggest impediment for someone considering post-secondary education. National tuition rates have increased by 25% in the past 10 years. In Colorado, that increase is closer to 65%. Adding in the additional costs of books, tech resources, student housing, and even on-campus parking makes the price tag of a year of education much too expensive for the average student to pay out of pocket. Student loans have become essential for low-to-middle class students, but one in four students will end up defaulting on their loans five years after graduating.
WGU is tackling this barrier head on with an affordable tuition model that’s making education more accessible. Tuition is billed every 6-months at a flat rate—no hidden fees and no additional charges for completing more courses. Students can save money by accelerating their program and graduating early.
Complex financial aid process.
Navigating financial aid options can be confusing, especially for first-gen students. Deciding which loans to apply for, finding grants and scholarships, and knowing how much to borrow is overwhelming for someone with no prior experience with these systems. WGU is working to address this issue on the federal level. A simplified version of the FAFSA will be available in 2022, which will hopefully make completing the form easier for first time students.
Having a financial aid office available to support and advise students about the application process—both from the university and external sources—is extremely valuable for students. WGU’s Responsible Borrowing Initiative focuses on helping students understand student loans and encouraging them to borrow only what they need. Since 2013, the average amount borrowed per year per student has decreased by more than 40%. By simply providing useful information, WGU can significantly change student behavior and reduce borrowing, which helps alleviate the burden of student debt later.
Sometimes the mere location of a university can present an obstacle for students. Students may not be located geographically close to the school or they may live in rural areas where choices are limited. For those who choose a college in another state or city, additional considerations come into play like temporary housing on campus or housing off-campus, transportation needs, groceries, and utilities, on top of rent.
Online degree programs offer an alternative to overcome these proximity barriers, yet many aspiring students do not have the broadband access or tech resources to attend online classes. WGU is currently offering scholarships to provide internet access and laptops to students who experience these hardships to help increase their access.
The full-time college model can work well for what we consider the “traditional student,” but that model does not adequately serve adult learners who are also trying to balance a job and support a family. Nontraditional students need flexibility to work around their varied schedules and added responsibilities.
Learning does not need to be measured in seat time. WGU measures learning through our competency-based model, which puts the where, when, and how in the hands of the student. Flexible learning is the future of learning.
Lack of support.
It has long been proven that students with a strong support system have greater success in higher education programs. A support system can help keep students on track through graduation. Unfortunately, many students lack both financial and emotional support. These students are one crisis away from dropping out. During the COVID crisis, Colorado colleges invested more in mental health counselors and scholarships to bolster their students through the hardships wrought by the pandemic.
With students at the heart of WGU’s focus, each student is assigned a faculty mentor who stays with them through their journey to graduation. Students regularly meet with their mentor to plan their path to graduation, discuss roadblocks, or merely vent about personal issues. WGU has found having just one person in their corner to cheer them on gives the student confidence to continue on their path.
Any number of obstacles can stand in the way of achieving a college degree. While higher education is transforming rapidly, largely due to the pandemic, equity and access issues will continue to challenge students. WGU will continue to be a force to ensure those who have ambition and desire can achieve their academic dreams.