States look to Indiana as a model for online instruction

WGU Indiana enrollment—about 800 students—has tripled since the school opened in June. The average age of a WGU student is 36, and about eight in 10 students work at least part time.

With 70 faculty and staff members, WGU Indiana doesn’t have set class times for students, instead letting students move on to the next level of courses once they’ve shown mastery of current classes.

As a result, the average undergraduate at WGU Indiana graduates in two and a half years, instead of four years or more at traditional colleges and universities.

WGU students pay $2,800 for six months of education, with no limit to the number of courses they can complete.

Joan Mitchell, a WGU spokeswoman, said the online school wasn’t trying to “pull students away from other state institutions” by creating partnerships with legislators hoping to expand college access for their constituents.

“We’re there to fill a gap for people who can’t get to a traditional brick-and-mortar school or who can’t attend classes in the middle of the day,” she said. “It’s just another arrow in the quiver for higher education … that allows [states] to get more people graduated from college.”

Mitchell said “several states” are in talks with WGU, although she wouldn’t specify which ones “until [state lawmakers] are ready to divulge details.”

Teaming up with online institutions has become popular policy during the economic downturn that started in fall 2008. The strategy was discussed late last year in California, where state economics have wreaked havoc on higher-education budgets.

“Using Distance Education to Increase College Access and Efficiency,” released Oct. 25 by California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), suggests the state’s campus officials could create more college access through online college classes, despite the state’s budget woes that have raised tuition at many public institutions.