Go online, learn and save money
The Kansas City Star
If Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has his way, the state will soon gain an intriguing new college option.
Western Governors University is a fast-growing, not-for-profit online school for students who have begun work on college degrees but didn’t finish. With flexible schedules and a fixed tuition rate of $6,000 a year, it presents an affordable option.
And by focusing on four in-demand career fields — information technology, business, teaching and health professions — it offers an efficient way to get workers into vital jobs.
Western Governors University, headquartered in Utah, was conceived in the late 1990s by a group of governors. They discerned early on what now is apparent to just about everyone — that higher education needs to be more flexible, innovative and cost-effective.
The online university known as WGU grew slowly until 2010, when Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana established WGU-Indiana. With an executive order, he granted the school the state’s official endorsement and enabled students to use state aid to enroll in its courses. The governors of Washington and Texas followed suit, boosting enrollment significantly.
Nixon proposes to create WGU-Missouri. The school will open offices in the state, but courses will be online.
WGU offers “competency-based” education, meaning students receive credit as soon as they demonstate proficiency in a subject.
The upstart school may pull some potential students away from Missouri’s system of community colleges and universities, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which reaches out to the same demographic — older students — as WGU. But the new school will also relieve overcrowding in some fields, such as bachelor-level nursing programs.
And WGU will offer a welcome alternative to expensive for-profit colleges, which aggressively recruit students whether they are likely to succeed or not. Most students accepted at WGU have already completed some college and acquired workplace skills. They work closely with mentors.
Missouri’s network of public colleges and universities is one of the state’s strongest assets. It deserves the governor’s and legislature’s full support. But WGU will fill a niche that will help students and the state.