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New Online College Opens with Haslam’s Backing

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was on hand Tuesday morning to mark the creation of a new government-supported online degree provider in the state. The Tennessee branch of the Western Governors University will be geared toward adult students looking to finish their degrees and represents a key piece of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” workforce development plan—raising the percentage of state citizens with some sort of college diploma to 55 percent by 2025.

WGU, which has programs in four other states, is getting $5 million in Tennessee taxpayer money to set up their operation here, thanks in large part to Haslam, who prodded the state Legislature to choose the Salt Lake City-based nonprofit rather than having existing local colleges and universities develop similar programs.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Haslam said WGU is the best fit to for handling the state’s higher education aims.

“Our picture of what a college student looks like is dated,” Haslam said. “Only about 25 percent of college students today graduate from high school, go to school for four years, then enter the workforce. The vast majority of folks tend to be older, have some work experience and need to come back and get a degree.”

“WGU is a way for us to address those folks here in Tennessee so we can dramatically increase the number of Tennesseans who have a degree,” the governor continued.

Joining Haslam to sign a memorandum of understanding officially establishing the new school, WGU president, Robert W. Mendenhall, who told attendees that the thing that really sets the program apart is its “competency-based” model.

Students at WGU receive credit for skill development rather than for hours of class time, Mendenhall said.

Western Governors University in Tennessee will offer degrees in four areas including business, teaching-training, IT and healthcare, and tuition is roughly $6,000 per year.