WGU provides personalized career pathway, meets workforce needs (2024)

When you think of people who fill vital roles in our society, teachers and nurses are near the top of the list. Unfortunately, both groups also top another list: professions experiencing national shortages.

McKinsey & Company projects the national shortage of nurses may approach half a million by 2025. And data compiled by Kansas State University researchers at teachershortage.org estimates there are 55,289 teacher vacancies in the U.S.

It is startling facts like these that motivate those of us working at Western Governors University to do all we can to help aspiring nurses and teachers get the education they need to answer the call to serve their communities.

And we are having an extraordinary impact nationwide.

In the 2021-22 academic year, WGU’s School of Education led all institutions in the U.S. in conferring bachelor’s degrees in education — 4,669 degrees, or just over 5% of all bachelor’s in education degrees, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics. The school also conferred 2,043 master’s in teaching degrees, for a nationwide total of 6,712 new and advancing educators.

In that same year, WGU’s Michael O. Leavitt School of Health conferred 5.4% of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing across the country.

We are making an impact at home, too. Last year, WGU conferred teaching degrees on 1,041 Utahns; another 398 Utahns received nursing degrees.

A few more numbers that illustrate our impact: We currently have more than 43,000 students across the country who are actively pursuing degrees in 30 graduate and undergraduate programs offered by our School of Education. And our School of Health is serving nearly 25,000 students in 20 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs.

These numbers from two of WGU’s four schools — the others are technology and business — highlight the university’s commitment to providing pathways to opportunity with affordable, flexible and personalized online programs while addressing workforce needs.

It is fair to say WGU, now the nation’s largest nonprofit university, has exceeded the initial expectations set in 1997 by its 19 founding governors — chief among them Michael O. Leavitt, Utah’s former governor.

WGU continues to innovate in how we deliver and enhance our programs to ensure we are closely aligned with student need and market demand. Our rigorous assessment of student competency means employers can trust that our students have the skills and capabilities we say they do.

While we are serving a growing number of typical college-age students, most of our students are working adults who never had a chance to go to or finish college or now want an advanced degree to propel their careers. Our tech-enabled offerings fit the learning styles as well as the lifestyles of these learners, who are not well served by traditional colleges.

We knew we were on the right track years ago, but a 2023 survey conducted for WGU by Gallup put a fine point on it: 73% of WGU alumni strongly agree their degree was worth the cost, about double the percentage of graduates from other types of institutions who say that. Our marks were just as high in response to a question about whether alumni would recommend WGU to others. And our students see a real return on their investment; we estimate a WGU degree pays for itself 15 to 45 times over during the course of a career. At WGU, we believe talent is everywhere, but access to opportunity is not. And there is no better way to bridge the gap between talent and opportunity than higher education, which was driven home repeatedly during our recent commencement ceremonies in Cincinnati.

We celebrated the accomplishments of 1,308 graduates from across the country, including 438 degrees in education and 218 in health professions. Of our newest graduates, 42% are the first in their families to receive a college degree. Most had to squeeze learning into already packed schedules and some overcame deep-seated fears about learning as they completed their degrees.

Take Daniel Baker, one of our commencement speakers. A high school dropout, Daniel had severe math anxiety and didn’t think he was smart enough for school. Then, at age 28, he passed the GED with top scores — including a 78th percentile in math. An online bachelor’s degree came next.

Now 62, Daniel received an M.S. in Education Technology and Instructional Design, an accomplishment he said marked a turning point in his life. He has received job offers with a 50% salary increase over his income as a vocational teacher running one of the top 10 STEM labs in the country.

“I didn’t know it would take this long,” said Baker. “But I finally got here. Still a jack-of-all trades, but a Master of Education.”

Yes, Daniel, you did it! And this year, some 50,000 other WGU students will hold their own diplomas high, just like you did.

Courtney Hills McBeth is the chief academic officer and provost at Western Governors University, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City.

WGU provides personalized career pathway, meets workforce needs (2024)
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