By WGU Team
Even before the global pandemic radically changed their way of life, students pursuing higher education opportunities—especially those from underserved populations—faced high barriers to entry. The rising cost of education combined with inequitable admission policies and difficult personal circumstances put more traditional degree pathways or certifications out of reach for millions of prospective learners. And now, with the repercussions of COVID-19, many workers are facing the urgent need to reskill or upskill for a post-pandemic economy.
In March 2021, WGU announced the launch of its Equitable Access Initiative (EAI), which aims to help remove these barriers and support students as they work to attain degrees and improve career prospects. WGU’s Board of Trustees has designated $6 million in funding, supporting learners who are facing challenges such as job loss, lack of essential technology, changes in childcare and schooling arrangements, health concerns, and overall financial instability.
“At WGU, we believe that while talent is universal, access to opportunity is not,” said Scott Pulsipher, President of WGU. “That’s why we have made a commitment to increase access to education, making it possible for individuals to improve their lives and the lives of their families by earning a college degree that fits their situation. The tools within WGU’s Equitable Access Initiative are key in helping students have access to education, and thus access to opportunity.”
Funding for this initiative will be available to new and existing students through three financial support mechanisms:
The WGU Resiliency Grant assists new students who are experiencing unforeseen financial struggles by offering them up to $4,000 that can be used for tuition, fees, and instructional materials allowing them to pursue their academic goals. The scholarship is frontloaded to cover $2,500 in the first six-month term and $750 for two subsequent terms—incentivizing students who already have some college credits to accelerate their degree path through the university’s competency-based education model.
The WGU Opportunity Grant supports new students who lack access to federal or state financial aid by offering them up to $10,000 (applied over four, six-month terms) that can be used for tuition, fees, and instructional materials. At $2,500 per term, the grant covers approximately 70 percent of the total cost of most degree programs for students who graduate in two years or less.
WGU’s Online Access Scholarship provides students who lack reliable broadband access with free high-speed internet service for the duration of their degree programs while also supplying them with refurbished laptops. The internet service is not restricted to a device, allowing students’ family members to use the Wi-Fi for essential functions, such as accessing healthcare and applying for jobs.
WGU is dedicated to creating pathways to opportunity for those most in need, and the EAI is a great step in reaching this goal. However, though WGU will continue to fund scholarships and programs that address equity in higher education, equity disparity is also a large-scale issue that must be tackled from several angles if it is to be successfully addressed. Public/private funding partnerships, policy solutions in both government and higher ed institutions, and changes to social support systems are key to ensuring all people have access to educational opportunities and better careers, no matter their background or challenges.
To explore ways to help, contact these WGU groups: