Thanks to a sympathetic editor, an understanding family, and some patient instructors I have a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from UNC Asheville, class of 1994. I am a 1983 graduate of Georgia Christian School, so it was 10 years between my high school and college graduations.
When I returned to college in August 1991 to finish my degree, I had a newborn child and full-time job. Classes were relatively easy compared to the 60-mile drive between UNC Asheville and my job. This was before widespread internet and online courses.
But I did finish, and I’m glad I went back.
I thought about those days last week when something found its way inside my email box.
A 100% online college in North Carolina has targeted a scholarship offer to the state’s 4.1 million residents who live in rural areas and may face obstacles of distance, time and money toward earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The 4.1 million figure comes from the N.C. Rural Center.
Utah-based WGU, which stands for Western Governors University, introduced a “Learn Where You Live” scholarship worth up to $3,000 and awarded at $750 per six-month term. The scholarships are available to new or returning WGU students living in rural areas of North Carolina, defined by U.S. Census Bureau data as communities of approximately 2,500 or fewer residents.
“If you can’t get in your car and drive to your local community college or university, maybe you can plug in at night and get some classes toward a degree,” says Glenn Gillen, a spokesman for WGU who works in its Durham office.
More than 4,300 WGU students are currently enrolled in North Carolina, and more than 7,000 alumni live in the state, according to WGU. The nonprofit began in 1999 for nontraditional students, and signed an affiliate agreement with North Carolina in 2017 for accreditation.
Many people in rural areas of the state just can’t drive an hour or more to sit in a college classroom, especially if they have work or family obligations, says Gillen.
“One of our missions is to be the most inclusive university, and that includes underserved populations,” says Gillen.
WGU courses are based on a competency model, meaning once a student has shown proficiency in a particular subject, the student can move on to the next course. Rather than traditional semesters, courses are offered in six-month terms and students have access to class instruction 24 hours a day via broadband internet. WGU also assigns a mentor to each student from that person’s field of study to help bridge any online learning gaps.
WGU offers more than 80 degrees surrounding four areas, education, healthcare, information technology and business. An area of study popular now is cyber security, Gillen said.
A six-month term costs between $3,700 and $4,000, but because courses are competency based a person can take as many or as few as they want to in that period and pay the same price. Students work at their own pace within the six-month period.
The scholarships may also benefit the 1 million-plus North Carolina residents who have some college, but no degree or certificate.
The UNC System launched a separate initiative, called Project Kitty Hawk, to try to help these students get back on track to earn a degree that could lead to higher pay and job security.
“Sometimes people have borrowed money and gone into debt to go to college, but they have no degree to get a job,” says Gillen. “We’re an option for working adults to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in one of these four colleges and then position themselves for the opportunity to get into a better career.”
The scholarship application deadline is June 30 and more information is available at www.wgu.edu/learnwhereyoulive.
No way am I saying an online university would be the best option for everyone, but it might make it easier for some to earn a college degree.