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Students find Western Governors University

Brent Gregory, a Western Governors University Washington graduate, landed a well-paying job as an information technology director with Potlatch Corp. in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)
Brent Gregory, a Western Governors University Washington graduate, landed a well-paying job as an information technology director with Potlatch Corp. in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)

Flexibility, affordability and credibility were the key reasons two Spokane-area residents gave for choosing to enroll in Western Governors University Washington.

But reputation was also a factor. “I spoke to several students before I chose to go there,” said Spokane Valley resident Brent Gregory, a recent graduate. “I did a lot of Web research and found all positive feedback.”

WGU, which is accredited nationally and locally, was endorsed by the Legislature a year ago to expand post-secondary options for the state’s students. The nonprofit college receives no state funding and offers 50 bachelor’s and master’s online degree programs in business, information technology, education and health care. It’s the only online university endorsed by Washington.

While tuition rates at the state’s public universities has jumped 50 percent or more during the past five years and now near $20,000 annually, WGU Washington costs about $6,000 a year.

The university’s first commencement is April 21 in Seattle, but there already are dozens of Washington graduates, and statewide enrollment is about 2,400.

“It was certainly one of the most cost-effective ways to get an MBA,” said Gregory, who landed a job as IT director at Potlatch Corp. shortly after earning his degree. “Another factor in choosing WGU was its accreditation; with some online programs you don’t know. I would not have done it if it was not accredited.”

Gregory’s employer wasn’t deterred by his online degree, he said.

Western Governors University was founded in 1997 by 19 governors, including Washington Gov. Mike Lowry, to address the need for a better-educated workforce by making it easier for working adults to earn degrees, college officials said. According to a recent study, within the next five years more than 67 percent of all jobs in Washington will require a post-secondary degree.

WGU is available in all 50 states, but it has only three state affiliations – Indiana, Texas and Washington. State affiliation has helped WGU “reinforce its presence in the state,” Jean Floten, WGU Washington’s chancellor, wrote in an email.

Cheney resident Bobbi Lagerquist researched several online programs before choosing WGU. Her husband is in the military, so she knew she might have to move while working on her degree, which the university accommodates.

“That alone was a good reason,” said Lagerquist, who lived in Wyoming when she started WGU’s program. But also, “The cost was relatively inexpensive compared to other schools.”

A four-year degree from WGU costs about $23,120, compared with $50,000 or more at other online universities such as University of Phoenix, Walden or Kaplan, all of which are for-profit, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Additionally, “I liked that the school was locally and nationally accredited,” Lagerquist said. “I felt … I was walking away with a degree that was as good as the brick-and-mortar schools.”

In order to advance in WGU, students must demonstrate their knowledge in the degree program through writing papers, completing assignments and passing exams. Students are assigned mentors for the classes who guide them through the course. Tests are proctored via webcam.

“It was self-paced,” Gregory said. “They would have video lectures, computer-based curricula, one-on-one time, or you could meet with a student group online.”

“The classes really, truly challenged my brain,” Lagerquist said. “You had to be an independent thinker. You have your computer and yourself. My mentor would call once a week. You had a mentor for each class, and you could just call or shoot an email over with questions.”

The 42-year-old earned a Bachelor of Science in business management and was hired last month by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services as a financial specialist.

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