RALEIGH — As the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, one local university program is doing its part to make college and graduate school more accessible and more affordable for North Carolinians for years to come. In honor of its three-year anniversary, Western Governors University (WGU NC) just announced a new WGU NC Three for Three Scholarship initiative. Through this new program the university plans to reward ten NC residents $3,000 each in tuition credits renewable for up to four terms. The current tuition at WGU NC is around $3,250 per six-month term for most undergraduate degree programs.
Although attendees range in age from 17 to 75, WGU is designed for working adults whose average age is currently around 35 years old. The accredited nonprofit online university has branches all across the country, and Governor Pat McCrory authorized the N.C. affiliate in October 2015. Two years later WGU’s national president officially launched the N.C. office. WGU now offers over 60 undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields ranging from IT, business, K-12 teacher education, healthcare, and nursing. It offers an asynchronous, competency-based model that allows students to log in and access coursework at a time convenient for them, and to accelerate at their own pace.
Chancellor Catherine Truitt says the majority of WGU’s students are older adults with families and/or other careers however they often gladly enroll undergraduate students transferring from community colleges or other universities. She says the scholarships will be awarded by a combination of needs based and merit-based factors including a candidate’s academic record, financial needs, readiness for online study, and current competency. “WGU North Carolina was established to expand access to higher education in our state, and at this time, an affordable degree in a high-demand field can provide individuals with the means to help their families weather tough economic times and eventually thrive when things return to normal,” she says.
Amidst the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the entire U.S. education system has been uprooted and anything but normal this past year. Late spring and early fall lockdowns continue to make in person learning challenging regardless of age or skill level. As a result there has been a surge in popularity when it comes to online education, particularly among older Americans who value the flexibility, predictability, continuity and ability to self-pace themselves when it comes to completing their coursework and obtaining an academic degree.
Even before the virus hit, a significant number of college students chose to enroll in distance education – never having to attend in person classes. These students are self-motivated and comfortable communicating through technology and managing their learning without having to show up at a particular place and time. Studies show they are often older with careers and families and want more control over their lives and education.
According to The National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), more than 6.9 million students, or 35.3 percent of students in the nation, were enrolled in distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions as of 2018. The private for-profit institutions had the highest level of students enrolled in distance education courses at 73 percent followed by public institutions at 34.1 percent.
Over the past three years, WGU North Carolina’s enrollment has more than tripled to include more than 3,900 active students across 97 of the state’s 100 counties. “It’s been three years since WGU partnered with the General Assembly and the Governor’s office to launch our North Carolina institution and we couldn’t be happier to report we’ve quadrupled in size,” says Truitt. Among other highlights:
• 4,217 WGU graduates live in 97 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
• 74% of students work full-time, and 10% work part-time.
• 22% of students are from low-income families.
• One in five WGU North Carolina students is affiliated with the military community.
Over the last three years, the school has awarded nearly $1.3 million to 606 recipients, including many from low-income families and the military community. Like these other awards, WGU Advancement, the university’s fundraising arm is the source of funding behind the new Three for Three Scholarships. The deadline for applications is December 31.
Truitt says 89% of the online university’s graduates find jobs in their respective fields of study within six months of graduation as further proof of its growth and success. Recent graduates can attest to the impact WGU has made in shaping their futures, no matter their starting point.
“WGU has changed my life by giving me the ability to be an army wife and a stay-at-home mom while finishing my degree,” says Jorie M. who received her Bachelor of Science in Science Education from WGU’s Teachers College.
“I am the first college graduate that came from our low-income family. The low cost, online competency-based model at WGU has helped my dream of being a college graduate come true,” says Jeff C. who received his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology from the school’s Information Technology College.