Military Wire: WGU Washington positioning veterans for success

Michael Schindler

The GI Bill, beginning next year, will undergo some significant — and certainly welcomed — changes. One of the most significant changes is that the new legislation eliminates the current 15-year time limit on the use of the  Post-9/11 GI Bill for those who were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013.

The intent is to provide this benefit, without a time restriction, to position our veterans and their families for success in an ever-changing corporate environment. Today, this often starts with a degree.

Pursuing higher education has long been promoted and encouraged throughout our military, but with over 11,000 institutions of higher learning to choose from, picking the right one can be a bit of a challenge.

WGU Washington has positioned itself with our military and veteran families to make the choice easier.

WGU Washington is an online, competency-based university designed to expand access to higher education for Washington residents. In 2011, the Washington State Legislature created WGU Washington in partnership with nationally recognized Western Governors University.

It didn’t take long for Tyrone, a logistics specialist stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord, to discover the benefits of WGU while deployed in Afghanistan. “It was either video games or education. Bettering myself through education made more sense,” stated Tyrone in my phone interview with him.

“I was already at a heightened state of focus and I wanted to dedicate my off-time to bettering myself. For me, getting a teaching degree fit. The online teaching program through WGU is absolutely top-notch. It fit my schedule, I have a mentor so it doesn’t really seem like an online education, I get credit for what I already know and I can work at my pace.”

Getting credits for “what you already know” is a standard practice for most colleges but what sets WGU apart is their competency-based approach.

I grabbed a few moments with Chancellor Rich Cummins as he and his wife were navigating traffic, to discuss what sets WGU apart from the many “veteran-friendly” schools that cover our nation.

Aside from the “low cost” and “student-centered” approach – which many universities will stake claim to, what truly struck me (in addition to Chancellor Cummins easy-going, very approachable demeanor), was his emphasis on “delinking learning from time” and their focus on an employer-based curriculum.

“Emphasis is on the competency and not the seat-time,” shared Cummins. “We focus on the competencies that are needed to demonstrate the understanding of the material. When you delink learning from “time” — you have the ability to move as quickly or as slowly as you need. One-time price for a given semester is $3,000 or $6,000 year. You can take as many courses as you want in that time frame. As a result, it can take only 2.5 years to complete your BA.”

Think about this: by “delinking learning from time” you can prove what you know through testing, get credit and move on to the next course versus sitting through a quarter or semester of a required course, despite knowing the material, because that is the practice.

The other noticeable difference is involving employers in the construct of the curriculum. WGU Washington focuses on four key areas that are critical to Washington state employers — business, health (nursing), IT, and teaching. By involving employers, graduates of WGU are trained up to be an attractive option for partnering businesses of WGU. This is one of the reasons WGU Washington has achieved a 98 percent employer satisfaction rating — they produce the talent employers are looking for.

I’ll readily admit that it may seem odd that a graduate of Western Washington University, who is employed by one of the top traditional, research-focused private institutions in the country, Syracuse University, is promoting another university whose tuition is $6,000 a year.

Here’s why: it’s the right thing to do — bring attention to a model that is working for many of our military and veteran families. This model makes sense for those who are disciplined, yet good at multi-tasking family, military life, and work life. The financial model makes sense too.

Is WGU the right fit for everyone? Probably not. Some will need the in-class structure and forced discipline that comes from the more traditional models. And while WGU doesn’t offer the traditional “college experience,” it does offer a low-cost, student-centered, distance learning model that is backed by dedicated program mentors and course instructors.

Bottom line: If you are trying to determine which of the 11,000 higher education institutions is a fit for you, check out WGU Washington.  When you do, you just might find this university is the pathway to your success.


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