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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.

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.”


Thousands in New Jersey still don’t have broadband access | Opinion 2021-06-16

Watts writes, “There is clearly an expansive rift between the haves and have-nots. The digital divide is affecting the educational plans of New Jerseyans and, potentially, their livelihoods.”


Commentary: Educators, listen to CEOs on upstate workforce training

Albany Times Union 2021-05-19

Watts writes, “There is an urgent need for innovative, skills-based academic programs. Without a top-notch talent pool prepared with relevant 21st-century skills, businesses face the possibility of failing to remain competitive or even viable.”

Rebecca Watts: Expanding access to higher education for Maine’s economic recovery

Lewiston Sun Journal 2021-05-16

Watts writes, “In Maine, there is an affordability gap to access higher education that could grow wider as public and private universities consider annual tuition increases. Competency-based education offers a low-cost option.”


New Assistance Programs Could Help Close the Digital Divide, 2021-05-06

Of the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit, [Watts] says, “It’s addressing a really urgent need for those who need it the most. That’s the most powerful thing about it.”


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.”

Competency-Based Higher Education Breaks Barriers for Immigrants

Only in Bridgeport, 2021-04-13

Watts writes, “Competency-based education, which Western Governors University (WGU) pioneered in 1997, helps immigrants earn U.S. degrees.”


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.”

WGU on Solutions

WURD FM/AM radio “Solutions”, 2021-03-12

WGU RVP Rebecca Watts joins Per Scholas Chief Impact Officer Bridgette Gray to discuss IT workforce opportunities in Philadelphia.


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.

Op-ed: We Must Provide a Path to Success for New Yorkers Re-entering Society

Empire Report, 2021-02-11

Watts writes, “Amidst a U.S. presidential transition and COVID-19 relief efforts, we should not overlook how recent legislation brought about a monumental, generation-defining shift to help prison inmates successfully re-enter society.”

Upstate Issues: Improving Access to Broadband in Rural Communities

WGY “Upstate Issues”, 2021-01-31

Access to broadband in rural communities has been a tough hurdle to overcome in New York. Watts explains that the pandemic put a new urgency on extending broadband service.