The community colleges are learning from WGU, a Utah nonprofit whose enrollment in Washington has soared more than fivefold since an endorsement from the state Legislature in 2011 allowed it to advertise as an in-state school. Now its students are eligible for state financial aid, too.

The community college system took note as its own graduates transferred to WGU in increasing numbers, exceeding transfers to all other private schools and some of the state’s public universities.

The colleges are not adopting the WGU model wholesale. WGU has an unusual division of labor among faculty that separates teaching from the design of curriculum and both of those from the design and analysis of tests. Much of the work of creating lessons and tests is outsourced.

The community college system considered but decided against separating responsibilities among faculty. But putting together the curriculum will involve some contracting, while also using the community college system’s online library that is open to the public.

“We’re going to use open resources. Students won’t have textbook costs, and the content will be freely available to others to use,” said Connie Broughton, who is heading up the project at the community-college system.

Avoiding textbook costs saves students $800 to $1,200 a year, the system says.

Otherwise, students will pay full freight while they are enrolled — $2,666 for a six-month term, the equivalent of taking 15 credits for each of two quarters. Local colleges might add more fees. But students could save money by finishing faster than in two years.

To move ahead, the state board is expected to approve next month a change to tuition policy.

Spearheaded by Columbia Basin College in Pasco, eight schools have committed to offering the new program, including Pierce, Olympic, Centralia and Bellevue colleges and North Seattle, South Seattle and Shoreline community colleges.

Pierce College also is looking at adding competency-based certifications targeting veterans moving into the civilian workforce.

Those future programs might help a medic use what he knows to become a nurse or a military investigator become a police officer, said Debra Gilchrist, vice president for learning and student success at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom.

“We think it’s also a perfect environment for those soldiers and airmen … to take those skills and really put them to work,” Gilchrist said.

Copyright the News-Tribune. Distributed by MCT Information Services. 

Add your opinion to the discussion.