A new agreement between the state of Indiana and a private online university will allow Indiana residents to use state scholarships to pay for tuition at the computer-based program. The arrangement is the first of its kind, but it could signal the beginning of a larger trend in higher education.
WGU Indiana is a new branch of Western Governors University, a private, nonprofit university designed for working adults trying to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says he considers WGU Indiana, established June 11 when Daniels signed an executive order, to be the eighth state university—although it is technically a private program and will not get state funding like other colleges.
Daniels said WGU Indiana will help adults earn degrees at their own pace and on their own schedule.
“WGU will fill the clearest and most challenging gap remaining in our family of higher-education opportunities,” Daniels said.
The agreement allows students to use state scholarship money toward WGU Indiana—something not allowed before. Officials also hope the partnership spurs more adults to earn their degrees through the online program.
Tuition at WGU Indiana is about $6,000 a year. Students are charged a flat rate and move at their own pace instead of being charged per credit hour or semester.
The online program sustains itself using tuition money, so WGU Indiana won’t be getting a slice of the state budget like public colleges and universities.
Money for the startup costs of WGU Indiana, including an upcoming marketing campaign and the establishment of an office in Indianapolis, came from grants from the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
WGU was founded by the governors of 19 states, including Indiana, to help provide access to higher education. Governors initially wanted to reach rural populations, said Robert Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University.
“But access is equally an issue for working adults who work full time,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of classes offered at 10 o’clock at night.”
WGU Indiana is the first state-based branch of the university. WGU Indiana will be open to Indiana residents only and will have an office in Indianapolis. Daniels said the program could be a model for other states to create their own branches in the future.
Nearly 20,000 students are already taking classes through Western Governors University, including nearly 300 in Indiana. WGU Indiana will enroll its first students in August.