Full college degrees in months! It sounds like an email scam, but it’s a new philosophy in higher ed being driven by… the government? In 2012, the online, not-for-profit institution, founded by 19 U.S. governors, became the nation’s leading provider of master’s degrees (and the fourth largest of bachelor’s) in math education. The low-cost, self-paced WGU focuses on skills that lead to better jobs in teaching, health care, IT, and business. “We measure learning, not time,” says Bob Mendenhall, the school’s chancellor. Students (average age: 37) pace themselves through material designed with input from corporate board members (such as AT&T) and with help from mentors. Starting in 2010, the governors of Indiana, Washington, and Texas each endorsed virtual branches integrated with (and financially independent of) their public universities–boosting WGU’s enrollment to 40,000. And while public university tuition was rising by about 5% a year, WGU’s has held steady at $6,000 since 2008. It keeps the fees so low through technological efficiencies, such as replacing in-person test centers with virtual ones. And it obsessively tracks metrics like this one: 95% of employers say WGU grads are as good as or better than those from anywhere else.
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