Nontraditional students get another option to complete college degrees

Albion woman able to finish education degree online, obtain teaching job
Posted at 3:57 PM, Aug 30, 2022

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Married with three kids and working, Amanda Redler said she couldn’t manage the one-hour commute to a community college from her home in Albion to resume her college studies.

So Redler turned to the Western Governors University, a completely online university that Nebraska helped found back in 1996 when Ben Nelson was governor.

Already teaching

Redler is now on track to graduate in the spring and is already teaching sixth graders at Petersburg. She is among about 300,000 Nebraskans who have some college studies but no degree.

On Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts and others inked an agreement to make completing a college degree easier and more affordable for nontraditional, adult students who cannot travel, because of the demands of life or a rural location, to a brick-and-mortar school.

“This is about giving everyone access to a life-changing education,” said Paul Illich, president of Southeast Community College.

Under an agreement signed by Ricketts and WGU, transferring credits from institutions such as Southeast will be easier, and Nebraska students will gain access to the state’s $21 million worth of “Opportunity Grant” scholarships for post-secondary studies.

Ricketts said Nebraskans who have some college studies but no degree are a pool of “untapped talent” in a world where about 71% of jobs require a post-secondary degree.

70% goal by 2030

This spring, the Nebraska Legislature established a goal of getting 70% of the state’s workforce, ages 25-34, to have “a degree, certificate, diploma, or other postsecondary or industry-recognized credential with economic value by 2030.” Currently, about 58% of that group have degrees.

Ricketts said that making it easier, and more affordable, for Nebraskans to attend WGU is another step to address the state’s workforce shortage. Most recently, 52,000 jobs were unfilled in the state.

WGU offers a “flat tuition rate,” in which students pay $3,750 for a six-month term in which they can complete as many courses as they are able. The school also allows students to test out of certain subjects by showing competency, learned through real-life experiences, in that subject.

Credits for competency

Redler said she tested out of several subjects, earning “competency units” instead of “college credits,” while pursuing her degree in education.

WGU President Scott Pulsipher, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, said the system, which credits experience as well as “time in a seat,” allows nontraditional students to complete studies more quickly and at a lower cost.

“There is no waste of time learning what I already know,” Redler said.

Brenda Soto, a WGU grad from Lincoln, said she was able to propel her career by working on a master’s degree in health care administration while working. She is now the state’s Emergency Preparedness & Response Officer, a job that requires a master’s degree.

Pulsipher said about 390 students from Nebraska are currently enrolled in WGU, among about 130,000 nationwide.

He said the average Nebraska student takes two years and three months to complete a degree, at an average cost of $15,165.

WGU, Pulsipher said, is a private, nonprofit entity that is wholly supported by tuition income. Nebraska did provide some seed money in 1996, along with nine other states, to establish the online university, officials said.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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