From WGU Texas Chancellor, Mark David Milliron
I’m amazed how many working students feel like they don’t belong in higher education. They tell me about how, deep inside, they have the sinking feeling that they are some kind of outsider. It’s probably because the dominant conversations, media, and politics around postsecondary education all too often focus on the fresh-from-high-school student launching on a college adventure. Working students, on the other hand, are either neglected or called "non-traditional" learners, which can make them feel even more out of place.
Let’s be blunt: if you’re a working learner, your team is dominating higher education. Most of the students in the broad spectrum of postsecondary learning journeys striving for certifications, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees are learning and earning. Many are working part- or full-time in jobs to get by. Others are already on a career track and are looking for a credential to help them take the next step. They are striving students taking advantage of the wide variety of options available to them in the U.S. to reap the rewards of further education.
WGU Texas, an online university in Texas, is laser focused on this student population. You absolutely dominate our student mix. Our students’ average age is 36 and our typical student is a working, independent achiever who is on a purpose-driven quest to get their degree to get ahead in business, education, nursing, or information technology. Indeed, our commitment to affordability and our competency-based learning model are specifically designed to provide working learners with a flexible, quality, no-nonsense way to obtain credentials that count.
However, while we often talk about our inspirational faculty mentors and student service teams when we discuss supporting student success, we’d be well served to focus on another group that has a significant impact: human resource (HR) professionals. By championing the right messaging, honing their organization’s continuing education policy, implementing tuition assistance programs, or even supporting flexible scheduling, HR professionals can be key inspirations on working student learning journeys. A quick perusal of the Corporate Voices for Working Families’ showcase of Learn and Earn programs shows the broad spectrum of inspirational programs these professionals champion that not only benefit working students, but also help the bottom line of their organizations through increased retention, talent development, community engagement, and more.
I recently recorded a podcast for Austin Human Resources Management Association (AHRMA) about these models and will be expanding on the broader working student dynamic in a keynote this week to the AHRMA group. As a part of the keynote, I’ll also be announcing a new WGU Texas scholarship program designed to recognize the inspiring work of HR professionals and champion their further education, too.
We’re partnering with the SHRM-TSC chapters, the Society of Human Resource Management – Texas State Council on this scholarship. This group of 35 chapters (pictured at right) has 13,000 member professionals working in HR across our state. We are offering 15 scholarships, valued at up to $2,000 each, to SHRM-TSC members enrolling in WGU Texas to earn their undergraduate or graduate degrees online with WGU Texas. We are offering one scholarship each in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, and another ten from various regions across the state. The application deadline is November 30, 2012. (Prospective students need to follow these guidelines to apply.)
The ripple effect of the efforts of inspirational HR professionals is profound. They make a significant difference for millions of working students—and thousands of employers as well. We’re looking forward to celebrating their work in Texas in the months and years to come as we partner to help more striving students successfully navigate the pathway to possibility that is education.