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Part of Western Governors University

Community of Care and Disaster Relief

Proactive Academic Support, No Matter the Obstacle

At WGU, supporting student success one by one is paramount. The WGU community of care proactively assists and supports students with many different challenges that pose a threat to their academic success, ranging from health struggles to financial concerns.

As a facet of this community of care, the Environmental Barriers (EVB) Program, developed from a pilot in 2017, proactively supports students facing barriers to their academic success due to natural disasters or other major events. Standardized in 2019, the EVB Program team collaborates across the WGU student support network to help minimize the environmental barriers to student success due to tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and other major events, including public safety events and pandemics.

Through the COVID-19 response task force, WGU distributed over $10 million in emergency aid to students experiencing financial and health hardships due to the pandemic. The university also added the Bright Futures scholarship to the existing scholarship portfolio, providing support to learners in need of higher education as part of their pandemic recovery plan.

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"WGU and all the staff have gone above and beyond to show how much y'all truly care about your students! From the bottom of my heart, I am so PROUD and HONORED to be a Night Owl!" —Casey Hipshire, 2021 Middle Tennessee Flooding Victim featured on CNN

By the Numbers: 2021 EVB Program Student Support

24,000

The number of students supported

47

The number of major events responded to

87%

The average retention rate for students affected by tragic events

A One-to-One Model for Quicker Response

We’re proud to serve WGU students one by one, proactively connecting with those affected by environmental barriers such as natural disasters and offering academic support. Each WGU student is assigned a mentor upon enrollment. Our EVB team leverages these existing relationships and provides mentors with the tools and processes to reach students, assess their situations, and assist them in overcoming unexpected obstacles to their academic progress.

How We Help Students Overcome Environmental Barriers

WGU proactively tracks potential disasters and other environmental barriers and strives to connect with students facing roadblocks to their academic success. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Proactive monitoring. The EVB event management team reviews weather events twice daily for potential impact to students living in the event area.  

Fire truck
  • Tracking. A severity and impact matrix is used to ensure appropriate outreach is provided for those events creating a significant barrier to student success. Some disasters, for instance, might result in loss of power and internet access or may result in a student’s temporary or permanent displacement from their home.

  • Identification and outreach. Geo-mapping in the event area helps generate a list of students most likely impacted by the local event. A dual-vetting review process is used by the EVB team to ensure the severity and impact decisions are peer-reviewed prior to sending out EVB alerts and notifications, including outreach to potentially impacted students.

When Disaster Struck, We Were There

Fires in California

Multiple fires ravaged California in 2021 causing extensive damage to homes and businesses, leaving many homeless. WGU identified and assisted over 100 students affected, providing academic support and relief to those who faced distressing circumstances that posed a threat to their educational progress.

Flooding in Tennessee

Devastating flooding in Middle Tennessee in late August, 2021 claimed 20 lives, leaving dozens trapped and injured, and many homeless. WGU reached out to affected students, sending cards and offering academic support and encouragement. For a student whose home was swept away, WGU provided financial assistance to help meet imminent needs.

Hurricane Ida

At the end of August, 2021, Category-4 Hurricane Ida caused widespread destruction across Louisiana and much of the northeast, taking 95 lives. A staggering 908 WGU students were affected, with 154 facing evacuation or temporary home loss and 300 losing internet access. WGU provided these students replacement laptops and hotspot devices and distributed emergency aid funds to help meet basic needs.

Real Student Impact

"As I write this, I've had to evacuate from my residence, mourn the death of friends who I know did not survive the Camp Fire and process the reality my home is gone. I only managed to get out with some basic possessions, my pets and the tools I use in my profession... I've relocated to my studio where I will likely need to make a new home out of it…So, the sentiments are appreciated. I will more than likely be utilizing the resources available.” —Affected WGU Student

Scholarships

Many WGU students receive scholarships and grants that make earning their degrees even more affordable. In 2020 alone, WGU awarded more than $20 million in scholarships to our students.

Military Benefits

All WGU degree programs are approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs for education benefits under the GI Bill®. Options are available for veterans and active-duty service members, dependents, etc.

Federal Aid

WGU is approved to offer qualifying students federal financial aid in the form of Pell Grants and student loans. You can fill out your FAFSA to see if you qualify for this federal aid.

Make an Impact

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