Higher Ed Affordability
The first step to ensuring everyone has access to an education that can change their lives is keeping tuition low. The average tuition and fees for one year of an undergraduate program at WGU in 2020 was $6,740, nearly half the $12,705 paid at comparable institutions nationwide. But low cost is just the start.
WGU charges tuition at a flat rate per term rather than per course or credit hour. When coupled with students’ ability to accelerate through WGU’s competency-based courses, saving time also translates to saving money.
But even more important than cost is value. Affordable tuition and a reduction in debt shouldn’t come at the expense of quality. A 2020 survey by Gallup found that 77% of WGU alumni felt their education was worth the cost—while only 37% of graduates nationwide felt that way. A 2020 Harris Poll found that 79% of WGU graduates felt the majority of competencies they gained in their education were relevant to work, compared with 75% of non-WGU graduates in the same fields. Eighty-four percent of WGU grads were employed full-time after graduation, and 89% of them were employed in their degree field.
Students shouldn’t have to depend solely on student loans to fund their education. Widening the scope of funding options ensures student have access to a variety of financial pathways and can choose the option that best fits their circumstances.
WGU advocates for policies and initiatives that remove barriers for all students. For example, learners should be allowed to access to state grant-in-aid programs in order to attend any high-quality education program. WGU also supports initiatives like Talent Finance, which reimagines the funding of education through public-private partnerships.
Across the nation, students are taking on record levels of debt as they try to stay competitive in a roiling economy. Americans owed a collective $1.7 trillion in student loans in 2020, WGU President Scott Pulsipher noted in a January 2021 column in Forbes. That's more than twice the total from just 10 years ago.
What's more, these challenges disproportionately affect first-generation, low-income, and minority students, perpetuating existing systemic inequities. A Black bachelor's degree-holder has an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than a white college graduate does, the Brookings Institution reports. The fear of debt keeps many first-generation college students from finishing—or even starting—a degree program.
WGU has taken student debt on through its Responsible Borrowing Initiative (RBI). Students who apply for financial aid receive a personalized Financial Aid Plan, which counsels them to borrow only what they need, not the full amount for which they are eligible. Since the RBI was implemented in 2013, the average amount students borrow has decreased by more than 40%.
WGU’s RBI is serving as a model for policymakers, as well. In 2020, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the Responsible Borrowing Initiative Act, which requires state higher education institutions to provide students with a detailed college financing plan to give them a clear idea of the costs and requirements associated with student loans.