TN Higher Ed Warms Up To New State Sponsored Online University

The headquarters for Western Governors University is in Salt Lake City, Utah. The non-profit online program is based on what students know, not how many hours they take. Credit: WGU

The headquarters for Western Governors University is in Salt Lake City, Utah. The non-profit online program is based on what students know, not how many hours they take. Credit: WGU

An adult online degree program called Western Governors University officially opens in Tennessee on Tuesday. Lawmakers and even some higher education administrators have had to warm up to the concept.

Legislators were hesitant to spend $5 million to open an office of Western Governors University or WGU. After all, Tennessee’s existing public colleges could have started a similar program, targeting people who have some college credit and never finished a degree. But with prodding from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, it was decided WGU could do a better job.

Rich Rhoda heads the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and calls a local WGU branch a “small and very worthwhile investment.”

“It’ll be a work in progress, but I think they have it down to a science. The market is not saturated. We definitely need all of the providers we can have access to.”

The state has set a goal to get college diplomas in the hands of 55 percent of residents. Rhoda says that means as many as 100,000 adult Tennesseans would need to finish what they started.

Tennessee and Missouri are the fourth and fifth states to start their own WGU branches. Nationwide, the online university has an enrollment of 35,000.

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