Online courses open higher education for working adults


CROWN POINT, Ind. -- Stacy Hickman works full time at Bickford Senior Living in Crown Point. The Gary native regularly balances 12- to 16-hour shifts, with class and clinicals, all in addition to raising her 3-year-old son.

At 27 years old, Hickman is working toward earning a bachelor of science in nursing to help advance her career and passion for geriatric nursing.

She first studied to become a licensed practical nurse at Everest College in Merrillville before it closed in 2015. When she decided about a year ago to return to school, Hickman took a different path. It isn't easy, the Lew Wallace High School graduate said, but online courses through WGU Indiana have made it possible to find balance.

"WGU was the No. 1 option," Hickman said. "If I have 30 minutes of break time at work, I can get on my phone, go through my app and I can read and I can study. It's the best."

Western Governors University, or WGU, is a private, national university founded more than 20 years ago specializing in online programs predominantly for adult learners. WGU Indiana, the university's first state-based model, opened after former Gov. Mitch Daniels approached the school in 2010 with an idea for a state-endorsed online university partnership.

Since then, the university has awarded more than 7,500 degrees to Hoosiers and is currently serving 5,600 Indiana residents in its online programs.

WGU Indiana Chancellor Alison Bell met with Crown Point Mayor David Uran on June 27 to discuss local workforce needs and creating opportunities for students like Hickman through the university's more than 60 degree programs.

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The visit was a part of Bell's recent statewide tour to connect with communities after being appointed Indiana chancellor in March. So far, the chancellor has met with leaders in Columbus, Evansville, Franklin and Lafayette.

"It's an opportunity to hear about some of the pressing needs in this area," Bell said. "I won't make the assumption that the needs are the same in Crown Point that they are in Evansville. The industry is different. The population is different. The geography is different. So, I just want to hear from the people that are boots on the ground here."

WGU was founded on the premise of offering low-cost higher education opportunities to students you typically couldn't afford it, Bell said. More than 70% of WGU Indiana's students fall in one or more of the low income, rural resident, first-generation student or ethnic minority demographics, according to statistics provided by WGU. Last year, 86% of the university's students were working full-time jobs while pursuing their WGU Indiana degrees.

With flat-rate tuition generally half the price of traditional brick-and-mortar universities in state, WGU can be a good fit for students like Hickman who are working parents looking for academic and financial balance, Bell said. Flexible terms allow students to begin a program at the beginning of any month, rather than waiting until the traditional fall or spring semester at another university.


"It's a blessing; when I went to other schools, they were telling me that I couldn't afford it," Hickman said. "I actually had to validate - is this real? This sounds too good to be true."

Bell said WGU is unlike its national for-profit competitors - some of which have shuttered their doors in recent years - because of its accreditation, state-affiliations and nonprofit model that allows the university to direct funds back into students. She said WGU's competency-based model of learning is rigorous and often employs industry experts to evaluate student performance.

"Sometimes people make assumptions that are wrong, like online is easier, which is truly not the case," Bell said. "It takes a different sort of work ethic to be successful online. There's more responsibility on the learner to move through."

For Hickman, WGU's courses have provided the flexibility and opportunity the working mother said she needs to advance in her career and better support her family financially. With a year left in her program, she even has her sights set on a possible master's program.


"I'm not stopping," Hickman said. "Wherever you're from, you're able to do it. No matter how old you are, you're able to do it. Don't let anything stop you."


Source: The Times


Information from: The Times,

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