Skip to content Skip to Live Chat

A Tradition of Breaking Tradition

Jan 25, 2023

The mortarboard sits precariously on his head as he makes his way to the stage. He catches a glimpse of the tassel swinging just beyond his right eye. He manages not to trip as he climbs the steps to receive his diploma, but he doesn’t breathe, either. Finally, with a sigh containing equal parts relief and pride, he stands at the end of the stage and moves the tassel to the left side of his cap.

Moving a tassel from the right to the left is a tradition–a rite of passage from student to graduate. It’s a small gesture, but a memorable one often met with tears or giddy whoops of accomplishment. 

WGU understands how important traditions are, big or small. That’s why we hold commencement ceremonies across the country, where graduates can proudly claim their diploma and move their tassel in the presence of friends, family, and peers. 

But sometimes, tradition needs to be broken.

Breaking Tradition Since 1997

Traditional institutions of higher education charge exorbitant tuition that deters anyone who cannot afford to take on the debt. They prioritize in-person classes that can exclude people with busy schedules. They measure competency in credit hours, requiring students to sit in class even after they have mastered the concepts. This system can work for some, but it doesn’t work for everybody.

WGU has proven that students can receive a high-quality degree in a non-traditional way.

We’ve been breaking tradition since our very inception. In 1997, the governors who founded our institution chose to sign the articles of incorporation not with a pen and paper, but with the “click” of a mouse.

The founding governors recognized that traditional credit hours weren’t working for non-traditional students. In a brick-and-mortar university, it didn’t matter when the student had actually mastered the material; they were to be tested on it at the end of the 14 weeks. Proposed by Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, WGU’s competency-based education system uses performance evaluation to determine if students have met the learning standards for each course. Once they have, they can move on–no arbitrary time frame required.

While other universities charge by the credit hour, WGU charges by six-month term. Students can take as many classes as they have time for, pass as many classes as they’re competent at, and move on to more classes without paying a single cent more in one term. 

By bucking tradition, WGU is able to respond as the needs of our students and workforce evolve. People with established careers who find themselves falling behind in their skills or lacking the credentials they need to move ahead are able to return to school, gain the needed skills, and return to the workforce in a fraction of the time. Most don’t even need to quit their job in order to complete a degree.

In the medical world, nurses are encouraged to earn their BSN–an LPN or RN is no longer enough to match today’s technology and health knowledge. Nurses risk a hiring ceiling that they can’t break without a BSN. With the shortage of nurses across the country, we can’t afford to lose valuable LPNs or RNs to the two years plus of traditional college. WGU’s nursing program keeps nurses in the field while they earn their BSN.

Breaking Through Our Traditions

The most important traditions we break are the ones we set ourselves.The content of our courses is constantly evolving to match current circumstances and industry standards.

As technology advances, so do we–ensuring our students have the tools and resources they need to complete their degree. We work to anticipate that evolution, to stay ahead of it, and even drive it forward. 

The very first graduating class at WGU contained exactly one student. In the 25 years since, WGU has had over 300,000 graduates. Whether or not they have chosen to participate in the tradition of commencement, those students have been sent into the world inspired and able to succeed in their chosen field–and hopefully break a few traditions of their own.

Recommended Articles

Take a look at other articles from WGU. Our articles feature information on a wide variety of subjects, written with the help of subject matter experts and researchers who are well-versed in their industries. This allows us to provide articles with interesting, relevant, and accurate information. 


WGU In Your State

On our blog, we share stories of impact from WGU students and alumni, plus updates on how we’re redrawing the education landscape.

Sage Advice Podcast

Telling the Story of WGU

Chris Bonnell, Vice President of External Affairs at WGU, is sitting down with colleagues and experts from across the industry to tell the story of WGU. 

From bridging the digital divide to solving critical workforce shortages, their conversations cover the biggest topics in higher education today–and explain why we proudly claim to be the most student-centric university in the world.

Sage Advice is a production of WGU External Affairs and is a collaboration between our team and Tellwell Story Co.

All Articles