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Rebecca Watts

Rebecca Watts

Regional Vice President, Northeast | Western Governors University

Jersey City, New Jersey, United States

Dr. Rebecca Watts serves as Regional Vice President in the northeast region of Western Governors University, helping to guide the strategic direction of WGU and further raise its profile among prospective students, alumni and external partners in 12 states spanning the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to Maine. 

Areas of Expertise: 

Competency-based education, innovation in higher education, the digital divide, local workforce development, women in higher education, access to higher education for underrepresented communities, including people of color, first generation college students, military, working adults, rural populations, immigrants, and people who are incarcerated


Ohio University: Ph.D., Higher Education Leadership, 2013

University of Illinois at Springfield: M.A., Communications and Media Studies, 1997

Sangamon State University, Illinois: B.A, Communications and Media Studies, 1997

Lincoln Land Community College, Illinois: A.A. Communications and Media Studies, 1992

Social:   TwitterLinkedIn


Rebecca Watts, Ph.D., serves as a vice president for Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, accredited university focused on competency-based learning that serves more than 120,000 students. In her role, Watts develops and strengthens relationships with partner organizations to expand student access, especially among the historically underserved, to WGU’s nationally recognized postsecondary programs. She also leads the university’s engagement with recent graduates and alumni in the northeastern United States, to facilitate alumni networking and job placements. 

Previously, Watts served as chancellor of WGU Ohio, a partnership between the state of Ohio and WGU to expand access to affordable higher education for Ohio residents through online, competency-based programs that address key workforce needs. Prior to joining WGU, she served as executive director for the University of Wyoming Trustees Education Initiative, a statewide effort to support Wyoming’s k-12 schools with innovative educator preparation. As associate vice chancellor for P-16 Initiatives at the Ohio Department of Higher Education, she led educator preparation program review and approval, college readiness efforts, and STEM scholarship and college access programs. 

Rebecca Watts holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from Ohio University, and degrees in communication, including a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield, a bachelor's degree from Sangamon State University, Ill., and an associate degree from Lincoln Land Community College, Ill.



State Policy and Its Effect on Educational Environments (Book Chapter)
Sole author; 2020 
Information Age Publishing, Charlotte, NC 

Higher Education and Hope: Institutional, Pedagogical, and Personal Possibilities (Chapter), 2019 
First author, with Leslie Rush, Ph.D. Gabriel Swarts, Ph.D., Cynthia Brock, Ph.D., Palgrave MacMillan,
London, UK  

Selected media appearances and articles.

Props for learning program that helps incarcerated adults re-enter society

NJ Spotlight, 2021-08-12

Watts writes, “Research shows that removing the federal ban on Pell Grants for people in prison will increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated students by 10% on average.”


Character education builds communities that thrive, 2021-07-29

Now is the time for more leaders in higher education, government and industry, as well as parents and caregivers, to reflect on how they can better support schools to inspire character. 


The Great Resignation: Workers demand flexibility. Higher Ed should listen

The Journal News, 2021-07-28

Watts writes, “The Great Resignation is our current moment; it is a cultural tide that signals a demand in American society for better balance in school, work and life. Now is the time for more leaders in higher education, government and industry to respond.”

Why eliminating barriers to education in Pa. is essential to workforce development and economic prosperity

Philadelphia Business Journal, 2021-07-22

Watts writes, “Competency-based education is not meant to replace the excellent traditional higher education options in Pennsylvania, but instead serves to fill-in access gaps that traditionally impact under-represented communities. For many of the 2,600 Pennsylvania-based WGU students and 3,200 alumni, this model is the only way they can achieve a college degree and continue to advance in their careers without interruption – ultimately strengthening Pennsylvania’s workforce talent pipeline.”

With uptick in attacks, demand for hard-to-find cybersecurity talent grows

Hartford Business Journal, 2021-07-12

“We’re constantly evaluating our [cybersecurity] program,” said Rebecca Watts. This summer, in an effort to raise awareness of cybersecurity as a career option, the university is staging a virtual “cyber camp” for high school students. Watts said the goal is to reach communities that have been historically underrepresented in cybersecurity and in the tech world as a whole.


Rhode Island learners need closure of digital divide

Providence Journal, 2021-07-11

Watts writes, “An investment in broadband is an investment in Rhode Island’s post-pandemic economic recovery, to educate its current and future workforce and strengthen those industries in Rhode Island that are predicted to grow in coming years, such as business, health care, and IT.” 


Online Education: Preparing the workforce of the future

The Baltimore Sun, 2021-06-28

Watts writes, “Even as Maryland’s high school counselors and college admissions officers offer support to help students submit the FAFSA, innovative learning models that are complementary to the many excellent traditional higher education options in Maryland can fill existing gaps.”


Immigrants are key to our economic recovery

Citizens’ Voice, 2021-6-19

Watts writes, “When Wilkes-Barre resident Adam Emmanuel P. Salvatierra immigrated from the Philippines, he had already earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing [but] While he dreamt of earning his master’s degree in nursing to advance his skills and knowledge to serve the greater good of the community, Adam’s full-time work schedule meant that he needed an alternative to a traditional, on-campus college experience if he was to pursue his dream.”

How to end she-cession: Prioritize workplace flexibility

New York Daily News 2021-06-17

Watts writes, “Recent data suggest that if we fail to adequately address the impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce, better days will remain elusive.”


Opinion: Watts: Expanding Access to Higher Education for Virginia’s Economic Recovery

Roanoke-Times, 2021-05-02

Watts writes, “Even as the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and Virginia College Access Network have formed an important new partnership to assist students submit the FAFSA, online, competency-based education is a low-cost option available now for those who seek to earn a degree aimed at employment or career advancement.”

Opinion: New York City’s Learners of All Ages Need Public and Private Sector Leaders to Close the Digital Divide

Gotham Gazette, 2021-04-23

Watts writes, “Federal, state and city efforts to expand broadband access will help, but a comprehensive solution can best be found by combining efforts from both private and public sectors.”


Opinion: COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women remains a barrier to economic recovery

The Republican/, 2021-03-31

Watts writes, “Now more than ever, women will look to higher education models that fit into their busy lives and allow them to upskill or reskill during the economic recovery phase of the pandemic.”

Opinion: Virginia’s incarcerated can now receive Pell Grants. It will benefit everyone.

Washington Post, 2021-03-05

Gerard Robinson and Rebecca Watts write, “Recent legislation has brought about a monumental, generation-defining shift to help incarcerated people successfully reenter society.”

Lockdowns accentuate upstate’s broadband gaps

CHHI N.Y. state newspaper wire, 2021-02-19

Rebecca Watts says it’s appropriate that New York is focusing on both infrastructure needs and putting the cost of broadband within the reach of consumers.


Rebecca Watts Discusses the Digital Divide

ABC27-TV “This Week in Pennsylvania”, 2021-02-14

Watts explains that the digital divide is essentially the distance between the haves and the have nots to have access to high-speed internet broadband and who doesn’t, and the problem is big in Pennsylvania.