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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor, Western Governors University (WGU) Washington

Welcome to an interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. Western Governors University (WGU) has been a leader in the development and delivery of online learning and has been at the forefront of establishing best practices. A flagship and guide for all organizations seeking to provide accredited, high-quality online degrees, Western Governors University has maintained a commitment to competency-based online learning, and has maintained high standards. Now, Western Governors University has partnered with the State of Washington establish WGU-Washington specifically to accommodate the needs of the citizens of Washington. 

1.    What is your name and your involvement in eLearning?
I am Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. I’ve devoted my entire career to higher education – including over 22 years as the President of Bellevue College, where we were an early pioneer in e-Learning.  Drawn to its competency-based, mentor-supported, affordable online delivery model, I joined WGU in 2011 as the first Chancellor for Washington.

Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University Washington
2.    What is WGU Washington, and what is its history, mission, vision?
Western Governors University – WGU Washington’s “parent” organization – was founded by 19 governors of Western states in 1997.  At that time, they knew education was becoming even more important to meet the needs of a growing knowledge-based economy. Their vision was to make education more available to people in their states. They wanted to create a new type of university that captured the power of the internet to transform the way education was delivered and evaluated student learning and awarded credentials based on demonstrated competencies. They wanted it to be affordable – so people would not have to go into debt to earn a degree – and open to anyone who could benefit from the programs. 

WGU has not veered from this founding vision. It is what drives us today.

In 2010, Indiana  Governor Mitch Daniels entered into the first agreement to bring a state-based WGU affiliate into a state.

Then, five years ago this spring, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation establishing a partnership with WGU. The legislative intent was to expand access to affordable, higher education for Washington residents. The result of that partnership is WGU Washington – the first and only legislatively-endorsed, online university in our state.

The impetus for the partnership in Washington came from community and technical colleges and legislators who knew more enrollment opportunities were needed in Washington, especially for transfer students. While more capacity was needed, budget shortfalls during the recession were making its funding impossible. WGU Washington operates on tuition only and is not dependent on state-funding or tax dollars to operate.

WGU Washington offers more than 50 job-ready bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four, high-demand fields: business, IT, teaching and nursing. WGU is the innovator of competency-based learning, a model that evaluates students and permits them to advance when they’ve proven what they know and can do, as opposed to the traditional model of using “seat-time” to measure progress. Competency-based education allows students the flexibility to work and learn at their own schedule – at a pace that works for them.

The flat rate tuition of about $3000 per six-month term permits students to take as many classes as they can, often accelerating their progress towards a degree and reducing costs. And, by the way, WGU’s surprisingly low tuition includes text books and additional learning resources! All of which keeps the cost of one’s education very affordable.  In fact, the average time for this year’s graduates to obtain a bachelor’s degree was 26 months for a bachelor’s degree and 21 months for a master’s degree.  The national average is 60 months! 

Delivered online, the model is suited well for hardworking adults who often have trouble balancing school, families, and work. Because WGU’s content is delivered online, students may study at any time and from any place – during breaks, late at night, early in the morning, weekends, or on public transit.  This permits many people to work their education into already busy lives. 

Our students are non-traditional learners. Their average age is 37 and many of them, 68 percent to be exact, are classified as underserved, meaning they live in rural areas or have low incomes.   More than a third of our students are the first in their families to attend college – a fact that makes us proud. 

3.    What does WGU Washington do? How is it unique?
WGU Washington helps hardworking Washingtonians to change their lives by qualifying them for positions that carry a living wage – enabling them to take jobs as nurses, teachers, IT or business professionals, or to qualify for advancement or even change fields altogether.

WGU uses a pioneering, competency-based model that allows working adults to apply the knowledge they have gained through work experience and previous education towards their degree, enabling them to focus on learning what they need to, when they need to.  Rather than award credit for time spent in class and listening to a single message that goes to every student, WGU Washington presents content that students cover at their own pace. Additionally, the model allows students to advance when they demonstrate they’ve mastered the course material – at a level that prepares them for professional effectiveness – by passing “high fidelity” assessments, both objective and performance based.  This unique model allows time, place, and pace-bound learners to pursue their degrees.

Studies have predicted that by 2018, 67 percent of jobs statewide here in Washington will require postsecondary education. Washingtonians— including busy adults who already have jobs, families, and lifestyles that make a traditional university setting unrealistic — will need to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees to qualify for these positions. WGU Washington is able to open doors for these nontraditional students and make further education possible.  For example, WGU Washington is a perfect choice for registered nurses who received an associate’s degree from a community college and are now expected by their employers to complete their bachelor’s in nursing.  With the challenging hours nurses work, WGU Washington offers the flexibility to complete the degree on their own schedules.  It is also a great choice for military personnel and their dependents who may be transferred often. They can attend WGU and never have to worry about transferring credits at their new duty station.

4.    How did WGU start to achieve its goals?
WGU Washington is proud to be part of the higher education family in Washington.  It provides a viable option to many Washingtonians, because of its affordability and accessibility, who thought getting a degree was just a distant dream.

In just five years, the university’s enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 percent from roughly 800 students in 2011 to more than 9,000 full-time students statewide today.

WGU Washington is the locally-based affiliate of Western Governors University – or, simply, WGU. WGU currently serves over 70,000 students nationally. Interestingly, Washington is home to more WGU students than any other state in the country. In addition, nearly 6,000 men and women in Washington have earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees in career-focused fields from WGU.

This staggering growth highlights the demand for the type of education WGU Washington offers.  The needs of nontraditional students – those who are historically underserved – are different from the needs of a typical undergraduate.  WGU Washington provides access to higher education for people that wouldn’t be able to earn degrees otherwise.

And when students meet their goals, our university meets its goals – goals focused on high quality, affordable and accessible higher education for students statewide.

Both students and their employers report high satisfaction with WGU.  Student satisfaction is 96%, and 100% of our employers say our grads are well-prepared for their jobs. That is what makes it all worthwhile! 

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