In an era of online universities and their reputation of being nothing more than worthless degree mills, Gov. Rick Perry’s executive order to establish Western Governors University: Texas, an online nonprofit university, rightfully warrants caution and skepticism.
Largely targeted at working adults, WGU promises low tuition, flexible schedules and quality courses to people who want and need degrees.
Overcoming assumptions and appearances, it seems to deliver based on comments from current and former students and WGU’s list of credentials.
The University has more than 25,000 students from all 50 states. There there are currently 1,600 Texans enrolled at WGU.
The WGU order seeks to address a variety of issues.
“Working Texans who cannot pursue their higher education goals on college campuses certainly should reap the benefits of WGU Texas’ online, competency-based model,” State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said in a press release on WGU’s website.
“They also should benefit from the program’s flexibility, which will allow them to meet family and work responsibilities while continuing their studies.
“Although WGU Texas does not receive state funding and is self-sustaining through tuition, it will help address our state’s key workforce needs while offering affordable career and continuing education opportunities to Texans older than 30.”
Although the effectiveness of online courses is often questioned, WGU degrees are competency-based. WGU students progress by demonstrating actual ability instead of just accumulating arguably unnecessary class hours in general subjects. While an instructor at hand is valuable, the traits unique to WGU are just as effective, if not more so considering the target of the program.
“This initiative is yet another innovation that is making Texas a national role model for reinventing higher education,” said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner, Raymund Paredes, in a press release on WGU’s website.
Texas being considered a national role model for higher education, or even education at all, is somewhat difficult to accept considering the harsh cuts to the Texas education budget this past year.
Regardless, a move aimed at improving higher education opportunities that puts the issue back into the center stage, is welcome.
With current six-year graduation rate rounding out at 57 percent for traditional universities, it’s only reasonable to explore the alternatives.
While increased enrollment is nice, it should be noted that increased graduation rates are better.
Even though a degree opens doors, one of the most important things to be dealt with is that with the lack of validity many associate with online universities, it is important to make certain that a WGU degree is as valuable as one from a traditional university.
In the current job market, new graduates from traditional universities often have a hard time finding jobs, an issue that will be even tougher on those with WGU degrees. An online university like WGU needs support from both political and business leaders.
Marcus Smith is a creative writing sophomore and may be reached at email@example.com.
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