Affordable, non-traditional college education | Don Brunell

Imagine 350 college grads walking across the stage to receive their degrees in a ceremony with no valedictorian and no student honors. That is exactly what the 2014 graduating class looked like when WGU Washington held its third graduation ceremony earlier this month.

Imagine 350 college grads walking across the stage to receive their degrees in a ceremony with no valedictorian and no student honors.  That is exactly what the 2014 graduating class looked like when WGU Washington held its third graduation ceremony earlier this month.

Sounds unconventional and non-traditional?  It is, and intentionally so.

WGU Washington has no campus and the students are not required to attend courses in person. They do their coursework online with their mentors while they stay at home with their families.  Most work, but all do their studies at their own pace, not the university’s or the instructors’. The average bachelor’s degree takes 30 months.

WGU stands for Western Governors University.  Founded in 1997 by 19 governors, it came to Washington in 2011 when then-Senator Jim Kastama (D-Puyallup) and Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney (D-Seattle) sponsored the legislation.

The university serves working adults and the 950,000 state residents who have started — but not finished — their college degrees.  The average age of the WGU Washington student is 36.  Students come from urban, suburban and rural areas.

WGU Washington uses competency-based instruction that measures learning rather than time in a classroom. In other words, you need to know the information thoroughly before you move to the next level.  It is a pass-fail system with no letter grades.  The important thing is the student masters his or her work, so potential employers know they can do the job.

It doesn’t matter if you miss a class where important information was covered because WGU Washington is self-paced with mentors tracking progress and assisting students to master the materials.

And there’s another difference.

Typically, after the graduation ceremony euphoria wears off for graduates of traditional colleges and universities, students are faced with starting a new life away from campus, finding a job and starting to repay their student loans.

The cost of a college education is staggering these days and 71 percent of grads are leaving college with loans averaging almost $30,000 – and the Federal Reserve reports that student loan debt has nearly tripled over the last decade.

That heavy debt weighs on students long after they leave college.

Pew Research reports that households headed by a young (under 40) college-educated adult with no student debt accumulated seven times the net worth of households headed by a similarly situated person carrying student debt. And Pew found that student borrowers carried almost twice as much other debt (car loans, credit cards, mortgages) than non-borrowers.

On the other hand, WGU Washington is affordable because tuition is charged at a flat rate of approximately $6,000 per 12-month term for most programs. Rather than paying per credit hour, students may complete as many courses as they are able during a term without incurring additional costs.

Compounding the problem for the graduates of traditional brick and mortar campuses is the job market remains tight. According to an Accenture survey, only 11 percent of this year’s graduates are leaving college with a job offer in hand. And almost half of graduates from 2012 and 2013 report they are underemployed and working in jobs that have nothing to do with their college degrees.

Compare that to WGU graduates.  In a 2011 Lighthouse Research survey of nearly 4,000 grads, 65 percent reported they got a raise, promotion or new job responsibilities as a result of their WGU degree and three out of four reported they were employed in their degree field.

Does this mean that WGU will replace the traditional college campus?  No, but it offers working students and those who dropped out of college another affordable option.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist.  He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Business

Stock photo
Grocery store workers have right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons

National Labor Relations Board ruling against ban by Kroger-owned QFC, Fred Meyer

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Bush’s 9/11 epilogue needs to be America’s prologue

We needed a reminder of the way our country came together after 9/11. We got it from George W. Bush.

Carolynn Bernard, owner and operator of Bless Ewe Sheep Company pets one of the sheep on her farm in Enumclaw on Aug. 17, 2021. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing
COVID, droughts put local sheep sanctuary in jeopardy

Owner Carolynn Bernard took to GoFundMe in hopes of raising money to make it through the winter.

Don Brunell
Recycling batteries key to protecting our planet

Americans already toss about 180,000 tons per year, and electric cars are just hitting the scene.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Stop, Rethink State’s Long Term Care Law | Brunell

People need long term care. But the Washington Cares Act might not be the best answer.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Japan’s hydrogen pilot may work in Washington

The Evergreen state already excels at using renewable energy. What if we added hydrogen to the mix?

A Darigold dairy worker practices picketing as a strike is approved by the union. Photo courtesy of Julia Issa
Puget Sound Darigold workers on verge of strike amid contract negotiations

Workers cite lack of medical leave, outsourcing and bad-faith negotiations as reason for strike.

Don Brunell
Massive reforestation effort needed

Forestry effort would control future wildfires, create jobs and help fight climate change

Don Brunell
Don Brunell
Bumper car therapy | Brunell

The joy of bumping around in the small electric vehicles could mean more than family fun

Don Brunell
Power of Our Interconnected Grid with Ample Supply | Brunell

Cheers to the Pacific Northwest power grid for weathering our recent heat wave

Don Brunell
Family Tree Farms Key to Cutting Greenhouse Gases | Brunell

Small-time tree farmers are the unsung heroes of our healthy forests

Dave and Buster's restaurant and entertainment venue looks to hire 130 people to staff its Bellevue venue, set to open in August. Photo courtesy Dave and Busters.
Dave and Buster’s hiring 130 for August opening in Bellevue

Dave and Buster’s restaurant and entertainment venue opens in downtown Bellevue on… Continue reading