Page 22 - Campus Technology, March/April 2020
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WORKFORCE READINESS dian schaffhauser
How WGU Is Filling the Skills Gap
Western Governors University is known for innovation in pursuit of student success. Its latest initiative takes that out of school and deep into the hiring process.
WESTERN GOVERNORS UNIVERSITY has always — from its very beginning — followed its own beat. Students are primarily made up of working professionals. They take competency-based courses online. The school follows a “disaggregated faculty model,” in which design faculty develop the courses and assessments, instructional faculty do the teaching and assessment faculty evaluate student submissions for evidence of mastery. Students are paired up at the beginning of their college careers with a mentor (a fourth flavor of faculty) whose job it is to check in via weekly phone calls and help them get over obstacles to success (including at times facilitating breaks from classes to focus on other aspects of their lives).
Tuition is set in six-month increments at rates that look far cheaper than what’s charged by other bachelor- and master-granting institutions. And students may accelerate through as many courses as they can handle during that period. As an example, the WGU master of science in information technology is $3,540 per term for tuition, including all the course materials. Almost nine in 10 graduates in the MS IT program finish within 24 months — four terms — of their start date, putting the total cost including fees at around $15,000; that’s $20,000 lower than a comparable degree from Arizona State’s online program, and it
could be less if the student set a faster pace. Yes, there are downsides to the model. The private, nonprofit school only offers degrees in four high-demand segments: business, health, IT and education. Also, like other institutions of its ilk, the mode of learning — online — doesn’t work for everybody. Some students prefer to sit physically in a classroom, being part of a cohort that moves lock-step through a degree program. And in spite of the university’s cheery you-can-do-it attitude, some people find it just plain hard to work a job, fulfill family obligations
and make time for homework.
But given such limitations, the university
could still be counted as a success. Current enrollment stands at about 121,000 students following 60 different degree pathways. Of those who come out the other end holding a new degree — a total of 170,865 by the end of January 2020 — 87 percent are employed in their fields, and 97 percent of employers that work with WGU grads have reported that they were prepared for their jobs. That’s a far cry from a much-quoted stat in a 2014 Gallup-Lumina poll where only 34 percent of employers agreed with the statement, “Higher education institutions in this country are graduating students with the skills and competencies that my business needs.”
And if its latest investment pays off, WGU

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