- Graduates of Western Governors University, the nonprofit institution that caters to adult learners, experience a rate of full-time employment that is around 20 points higher than graduates of other public and nonprofit universities and nontraditional graduates overall, according to the Gallup WGU Alumni Outcomes Report 2018 survey of 2,452 alumni that measured workforce and life outcomes. All of WGU's bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are offered online and are competency based.
- The Gallup survey found that WGU alumni are more likely than their counterparts to "to be thriving in their purpose, social, financial and physical well-being" and "believe they have the ideal job for them."
Two-thirds of respondents said that their faculty mentors highly influenced them to "pursue their goals and dreams," and 72% said they thought their education was worth the cost — which is more than double of graduates of other nonprofit colleges.
- In an interview with Education Dive, WGU president Scott Pulsipher said these statistics can be attributed in part to the Utah institution's student mentor model. He added faculty members, who have on average nine years of experience in their fields, "are not only offering additional instruction, but also providing coaching support for students that are trying to balance commitments."
When it comes to providing students with a valuable educational experience, Pulsipher said that Gallup's analysis of WGU graduates' satisfaction with their investment demonstrates that needing "a social type of environment or experience accompanying education" isn't all that true. It's really a matter of building an affinity with students, where the focus is on delivering on their expectations.
WGU has been able to do this, Pulsipher said, because of the institution is "reinvigorating the higher ed model," focusing on the quality and relevancy of degree programs that offer a paths to opportunity. The university has four colleges in what it says are high-growth fields. As the cost of education rises, delivering on students' career expectations within a distance learning framework has been the WGU's top priority:
"We've focused on making sure students are not only being equipped with the right proficiencies and competencies to be successful in whatever they choose, but they are not having to invest $80,000 and an arm and a leg to do so, such that their opportunity is one that is fulfilling in the sense that they will feel very productive in the areas they want to advance in," said Pulsipher. He added that WGU, founded in 1997, didn't have to adapt curriculum originally designed for a classroom environment, which made it easier to consider the educational experience in the digital setting from the beginning.
"We designed it directly into the educational model via that mentor-faculty relationship that they really need to be successful in their educational endeavor," he said.
Pulsipher said that for institutions considering the online education model, it's important to focus on providing the type of support needed in a distance learning setting — and that understanding doesn't typically come from observing support mechanisms on campus. That's why WGU focuses on a competency-based education model that leverages students' other forms of learning and personalizes the experience through mentorship, while still allowing for flexibility in students' schedules.
"Most institutions have not designed that specifically into the educational experience; they view it as happening outside of it. Or if they do so, they view it was remediation. Once the student has a challenge, then we have counselor support available. We focus on that from the beginning," he said. "We really saw the impact of this model when two hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit and we had over 11,000 students that were impacted by these environmental disasters. Everyone of those students knew who to call at WGU, and it was their faculty mentor."