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This is a guest post written by Allison Barber, the Chancellor of WGU Indiana, the state’s accredited, non-profit, online, competency-based university. WGU Indiana is celebrating its two-year anniversity. The university has helped more than 2,600 students either finish their bachelor’s degree or earn a master’s degree. During the past two years, WGU Indiana has had students or gradutes in 90 counties of the state.

In this piece, Chancellor Barber reflects on some of the most common questions she’s heard in the last year years about WGU Indiana.

1. Why do you drive that crazy “WGU” car?

I decided in the middle of our first year to have a car wrapped in our university logo. It’s the equivalent of driving a billboard! I drive that car all across the state and up to 1,000 miles a month. No matter where I travel folks often come up to me to ask about WGU Indiana. I met one woman in a Lowes parking lot who was so excited to see the car. She was one of our students and it was the first time she’d met someone from WGU Indiana in person. We often say that we’re the university that comes to you. I’m glad we do.

2. How does WGU Indiana decide which degrees to offer?

Our university is competency-based and our curriculum is driven by the current needs of the workforce. We are focused on helping adults attain degrees that lead directly to jobs. We add relevant degrees within our four colleges (Education, Business, IT and Health Professions) to make sure our students are competitive for the workplace. And according to employers, our graduates are meeting their needs.

3. Can people really learn online?

Several recent studies clearly demonstrate the increased level of learning that happens through online education. Harvard and MIT are now offering open courses online so people from all around the world can “attend” classes. And I just saw a billboard from Indiana University inviting their students to finish what they started by doing so online.

The research is supportive of our model, but my favorite measure is what I hear from our students. They tell me that they actually learn more than they did when they sat in a classroom. I like to compare the experience to the differences of being the driver vs. the passenger in a vehicle. Have you ever ridden in a car and someone asks you for directions and your response was, “I wasn’t paying attention, I was just along for the ride?” The driver has to pay attention to the details and has to retain the information—or else the drive home will be long! At WGU Indiana, our students have to retain all of the information so they can become proficient in the content of their course. They are definitely in the driver’s seat.

4. Does it take a lot of discipline to go to school online?

Yes, yes and yes. Did I already say “yes”? Seventy percent of our students work full time while attending WGU Indiana. Our model works for busy adults as long as the students make their schoolwork a priority. That means students need to carve out about 15-20 hours a week to stay on track to graduation. We work to remove all of the typical barriers in higher education, but at the end of the day, the student has to have the discipline and commitment to do the work. And we provide the necessary support, too. Our model pairs each student with a personalized mentor, who helps guide the student from enrollment through graduation.

5. Does WGU Indiana have a physical office?

We have one office in downtown Indianapolis where our enrollment counselors and faculty members come for their initial training. At the completion of their training, they rotate home and work remotely. Low overhead for us means low tuition for our students.

Here is a short video about our “campus.”

6. How many students attend WGU Indiana?

In just two years, our enrollment has grown to 2,600 students. We have or have had students or graduates from all 92 counties in the state. We’ve even had a student in Ohio County—the smallest county in the state! WGU Indiana has reached every corner of the state to offer our pathway to a degree.

7. How does WGU Indiana keep its tuition so low?

We do a few things to keep tuition low without compromising quality. First, we only focus on one thing: offering accredited degree programs to adults. We don’t have sports teams, campuses, classrooms, or dorms, which helps us keep a low overhead. In addition, we leverage technology to provide great efficiency. We just transitioned to e-books for our students—at no charge to them. Yes, free textbooks! Our belief is that adults deserve the access to higher education without having to go into debt to earn a degree.

8. Do people receive a quality degree when graduating from WGU Indiana? Do they get a job?

In March, WGU Indiana was recognized for its academic quality by the state’s governing body of public colleges and universities. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education released Reaching Higher, Achieving More: A Success Agenda for Higher Education in Indiana. Out of every state university and online option, the report highlighted WGU Indiana as the university where flexibility meets academic quality.

The majority of our students already have jobs when they enroll at WGU Indiana. What we know is that many of our graduates receive a promotion, a pay raise or a new position after graduating from our university.

9. Can recent high school graduates attend WGU Indiana?

Because we are competency-based, our university is designed for adults who have had some work experience. Adults can apply what they have learned on the job to their coursework at WGU Indiana. We believe that Indiana has many good college options for high school graduates, and we encourage them to pursue a degree at one of those schools.

10. Why does Indiana need another university?

We are fortunate to have so many terrific universities in our state. WGU Indiana is an essential addition because we are focused on helping one group of people: adults who have started college but never finished their bachelor’s, or who want to go further to earn their master’s degree. There are 740,000 Hoosiers with some college and no degree, which means one out of every five adults in Indiana.

One of our students told me that when his wife was ill, he had to be the primary care provider for their children, take care of his wife and continue going to work every day. Had he been in a traditional school, he would have dropped out because he would not have been able to make it to a classroom. He stayed with us because our model afforded him the flexibility he needed to go to school on his timeframe. WGU Indiana provides an option that many adults need and we are excited about our ability to help people graduate and succeed.

About Megan

Megan Schuman is an intern for Indiana INTERNnet in the summer of 2012. She is currently a junior at DePauw University.You can contact her at mschuman@indianachamber.com
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