Gov. Jay Nixon said today that a new partnership between the State of Missouri and nationally recognized, non-profit Western Governors University (WGU) will help thousands of working Missourians obtain an affordable college degree.
The Governor and WGU President Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall were in Kansas City today at the Kauffman Foundation to sign a memorandum of understanding that - together with an executive order also signed today by Gov. Nixon - creates WGU Missouri as a new, state-based online university offering high-quality degree programs. Gov. Nixon first announced he would create WGU Missouri during his State of the State address last month, as one of the means to achieve his goal of increasing the number of Missourians with post-secondary degrees or certificates from 37 percent to 60 percent, so they can get better jobs and meet their full earning potential.
"There are nearly 750,000 Missourians who started college but never completed their degrees," Gov. Nixon said. "Many of them may want to go back to complete their degrees, but haven't. Often, that is because they believe it is too expensive to return to college, or the demands on their time from job or family are too great. That's how WGU, an accredited non-profit university that is putting down new roots in Missouri, can play a tremendous role, especially in expanding access to education to underserved populations. With today's technology offered through WGU Missouri, we can make it easier than ever for Missourians to finish their degrees without disrupting their lives, and help them move up the economic ladder."
"WGU was created by governors to add affordable higher education capacity to state higher education systems with no ongoing impact to state budgets," President Mendenhall said. "The establishment of WGU Missouri will provide working adults in the state with a high-quality option for completing a bachelor's or master's degree on a schedule that fits their lives, at a price they can afford."
WGU has enrolled nearly 40,000 students from across the country since 1997, after being established by the Governors of 19 states. The university offers more than 50 bachelor's, master's and post-baccalaureate degree programs in key workforce areas, including business, information technology, K-12 teacher education and health professions, such as nursing. WGU Missouri will operate under the accreditation of Western Governors University, which is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
The executive order signed by Gov. Nixon directs the appropriate state agencies, including the Missouri Department of Higher Education, to support online competency-based education; to ensure that WGU Missouri students will be eligible to apply for and receive financial aid; and to explore methods for promoting online, competency-based education opportunities.
Indiana, Texas and Washington also have partnered with WGU to establish state-based universities recently. Gov. Nixon said that by adding WGU Missouri, Missouri will add affordable capacity to its higher education system, without ongoing cost to the state. WGU Missouri will be led by a Missouri-based chancellor, and will work under the guidance of an advisory board that will include corporate, community and education leaders from across the state.
The Governor also announced today that WGU Missouri would receive a Community Development Block Grant of up to $4 million to begin operation in the state, including staffing, marketing and other costs associated with its start-up. In addition, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a grant of $750,000 to support the startup of WGU Missouri. After startup, WGU Missouri will be self-sustaining through tuition of about $6,000 per 12-month year, and will require no ongoing funding from the state.
"WGU Missouri is designed to meet the needs of real people with real lives," the Governor said. "How quickly you earn your degree depends on how quickly you master the subject matter, because you advance at your own pace. Instead of paying tuition by the credit hour, students can take as much coursework as they want for a flat rate. This is the flexibility and the affordability that many working Missourians need to finish a degree to help themselves, their family and their community."
Prospective students can begin applying online at Missouri.wgu.edu. WGU Missouri expects that students will be able to begin this spring.