HELENA, Mont. – Governor Greg Gianforte signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) today with Western Governors University (WGU)—a leading nonprofit, online university—that creates a partnership designed to expand access to affordable degree programs for Montanans who need additional education to thrive in the state’s evolving workforce.
The partnership supports WGU Montana—a state affiliate of the national online university—to supplement the learning opportunities available through Montana’s public colleges and universities and will, in part, support the estimated 120,000 Montanans that have some college but no degree.
“We want every Montanan to reach his or her full potential,” Governor Greg Gianforte said. “Trusted partners like Western Governors University ensure all Montanans have access to the workforce training and education they need to succeed, regardless of where they live. Today we reaffirm and grow our 25-year partnership with WGU.”
Under the MOU, Governor Gianforte and the Montana University System (MUS) are working to expand eligibility of financial assistance offered by the state to WGU’s students. Additionally, WGU has established the WGU-Montana Partnership Scholarship, which will support 100 students with up to $4,000 in annual financial aid.
In 1996, Montana was among the 19 states supporting the launch of WGU to provide access to affordable education through online, competency-based degree programs and pledged—along with fellow member states of the Western Governors’ Association—to create policies that support the goals of WGU. Since then, WGU has grown to be the leading online, competency-based university in the United States, with more than 900 students and 1,750 graduates in Montana.
“WGU was established to expand access to affordable higher education options for learners across the country, and as a founding state, Montana has been an important supporter since WGU’s earliest days,” said WGU President Scott Pulsipher. “This partnership will provide pathways to opportunities to thousands of Montanans who need postsecondary education and training to advance their careers, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work alongside Governor Gianforte to help propel workforce development within the state.”
The agreement also calls on relevant agencies and officials to work cooperatively with WGU to support the WGU Montana partnership. Furthermore, it directs the Montana Department of Labor and Industry to “explore, consider, and implement appropriate and effective methods to promote online, competency-based education opportunities like those that WGU Montana will provide to dislocated workers, veterans, underserved populations, and other Montanans in need of higher education achievement and degrees.”
For its part, WGU Montana will work with MUS to provide seamless transfer and articulation for students between WGU and MUS community and two-year colleges. The university will also collaborate with employers and employer organizations in Montana to meet workforce needs, and will cooperate with the Governor’s Office, Board of Regents, Department of Labor and Industry, and other state agencies to assure that the objectives outlined under the MOU are achieved.
With an average student age of 34 in Montana, and with 88 percent of students employed—mostly full-time—while enrolled in degree programs, WGU has the experience and track record to help boost Montana’s efforts in supporting postsecondary learners, and especially working adults who need flexible and affordable pathways. Nearly 80 percent of WGU students in Montana are from one or more historically underserved populations, including large numbers of rural residents, first-generation college students, and low-income Montanans.
“I transferred to WGU after graduating from my local community college and now am working on a bachelor’s degree in software development,” said Julia Vogt, a current WGU student from Belt. “WGU makes it possible for me to earn a degree and get a great job—without leaving my hometown or moving out of state.”
To learn more and apply for the WGU-Montana Partnership Scholarship, visit www.wgu.edu/montanapartnership.