In 1997, the governors of 19 Western states established a new kind of university system. The governors knew that the residents of their states had been struggling with the cost of, and access to, higher education. Many people started college, managed a couple of classes, then dropped out for one reason or another. The credit hours those students had earned languished. The time and money invested were going to waste.
The Western Governors University consortium was created to change that situation. The goal: assisting residents of their states in completing their degrees. The method: online classes; flat rate tuition; generous transfer of credit hours; and competency-based degree programs.
WGU – Indiana, a non-profit institution, took its place in the WGU community in 2010. Based in Indianapolis, WGU – Indiana offers more than 50 accredited online bachelor’s and master’s degrees to the residents of Indiana. WGU – Indiana requires no minimum high school GPA, and no minimum SAT or ACT scores. Applicants merely pass a qualifying test to be accepted. That is welcome news to students whose average age is 36, their high school years far behind them.
Affordable tuition is also a factor in students’ success. Instead of charging by the credit hour, WGU – Indiana charges its flat-rate tuition in 6-month intervals, regardless of how many credits a student is able to accumulate in that time. Regional and national accreditation provides students the opportunity to apply for state and federal financial aid.
The University is career-oriented, offering degrees in Business, Information Technology, Teacher Education, and the Health Professions. Its competency-based system means that students need not spend hours in a classroom, but instead demonstrate mastery of a subject to mentors. At the time of enrollment, each student is assigned a Student Mentor, who will follow his progress up to graduation. While he is not an expert in all fields, the Student Mentor coaches his student, checking in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, as needed, and gives practical advice as it is warranted.
It is the Course Mentors, each of whom is an expert in a chosen field, who guide groups of students through a subject. The Course Mentor is trained to address any issues about the course, the available learning resources, and assessments of student abilities. Three-quarters of the Student Mentors, and more than 95% of Course Mentors, have graduate degrees themselves.
Program Faculty define competency in each field, design courses, and work to facilitate learning, with an eye toward enabling graduates to obtain work in their chosen fields. School officials stress that students should be independent, self-directed, and willing to work hard, stating that students spend on average about 20 hours per week on their rigorous studies.
IGU – Indiana’s liberal credit hour transfer policy is another major boost for its students. WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Barber says that, due to the fact that most students have some college credits when they start WGU, combined with the opportunity for acceleration, the average time to a bachelor’s degree is 2 1/2 years.