AUSTIN — For Elliette Teague, the journey from a poor farming community in the Philippines to the stage at WGU Texas’ first commencement ceremony has been a long one, but with a very happy ending. As an immigrant working and trying to make her way in a new country, Teague knew she would have to further her education to have the life she wanted. With money tight, she started, and stopped, at another university, fearful of the mounting student debt she was accumulating. Then she found WGU Texas and was able to realize her dream of earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution affordably, while continuing to work full time. Teague is one of more than 440 Texans celebrating their academic success as graduates since the launch of WGU Texas in August 2011.
A nonprofit, online university, WGU Texas is hosting its inaugural commencement ceremony at the Austin Hilton on November 10, where more than 100 of the graduates from across the state will assemble to don cap and gown and walk the stage in a formal conferral of degrees. In addition to four student speakers, including Teague, the event will include a commencement address from Dr. Stefanie Sanford, Director of Policy & Advocacy, United States Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
WGU Texas (http://texas.wgu.edu) was established on August 3, 2011, through a partnership with nationally recognized Western Governors University by an Executive Order from Governor Rick Perry with bipartisan support from Senator Judith Zaffirini and Representative Dan Branch. Since then, WGU Texas’ innovative, competency-based, mentor-guided learning model has spread across the state, receiving accolades from students and state officials alike. Enrollment at WGU Texas now stands at 3,300 students, with new students enrolling each month.
WGU Texas is designed to meet the learning needs of working adults. The average age of WGU Texas students is 37, most have families, work full time, and have already completed some college. WGU Texas students enroll because they want to increase their earning potential and improve their lives, and WGU Texas allows them to do this without neglecting job and family responsibilities. The university uses a competency-based approach to learning that allows students to move quickly through material they already know so they can focus on what they still need to learn. Faculty members serve as mentors, working one-on-one with students to help ensure their success. A nonprofit institution, WGU Texas is self-sustaining on flat rate tuition of $2,890 per six-month term for most programs.
WGU Texas graduates completed their coursework from 174 towns and cities across the state this year, and many are the first in their families to earn a university degree. “I am happy to see innovators like WGU Texas stepping up to provide new options to learners across the state,” said Senator Royce West, Senate Committee on Higher Education member. “The need to reach wide audiences of underserved student populations, including first-generation, low-income, urban, and rural students, and those needing to re-educate themselves after a layoff or need to return to the workforce, has never been greater or more important for the future of Texas.”
One of the four graduates delivering a commencement speech, Michael Stewardson (Humble, TX), found competency-based learning ideal because it allowed him to apply the considerable knowledge, expertise, and certifications he had acquired during his 15 years as a community college professor.
For many adult learners, the notion of returning to college can be intimidating. Graduate speaker Analiese Haben (Spring Branch, TX) will also share her personal story with the more than 900 friends, family, and guests of graduates expected to attend the ceremony. Haben will advise them to proceed in the face of fear, and “do it afraid.” For her, the support of her mentor played a significant role in her academic success.
For graduate speaker Cherlyn Jones (Pearland, TX), having her associate’s degree and being able to transfer those credits to WGU Texas helped her get a quick start on her way to her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, an achievement that will allow her to follow in the steps of her mother, who was also a nurse.
While students learn online with WGU Texas, the commencement ceremony allows students to share this significant victory in person with family, friends, and faculty mentors who supported their journey.