Estep: Chattanooga State partners with online learning site

Estep: Chattanooga State partners with online learning site

October 3rd, 2013 Kimberly K. Estep in Opinion Columns

Governor Bill Haslam's "Drive to 55" initiative aims for 55 percent of Tennesseans to have at least an associate-level degree by 2025.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Recently, I was proud to stand with Dr. James Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State Community College, and announce an agreement that allows graduates and staff of Chattanooga State to seamlessly pursue their bachelor's or master's degrees through WGU Tennessee and receive a five percent discount on tuition.

For those of you who haven't heard of WGU Tennessee, it is an accredited, not-for-profit online university aimed at expanding access to higher education for all Tennesseans, particularly nontraditional students. WGU Tennessee launched in July and was established through a partnership with the state of Tennessee and Western Governors University. After initial startup investments by the state of Tennessee and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WGU Tennessee will be self-sustaining on tuition with no ongoing state funding. As of today, there are already 700 WGU Tennessee students and nearly 500 graduates.

Tennessee has excellent higher education institutions, including the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. By bringing WGU to Tennessee and to Chattanooga, we hope to bring a new option to the table. We're proud to be a nationally recognized university created with the needs of working adults in mind.

Our approach to learning, which is competency-based, is perhaps the best example of WGU Tennessee's focus on adult learners. What this means is simple: Rather than earning degrees based on credit hours or time spent in class, students are required to demonstrate competency in subject matter. That WGU was the first institution in the United States to employ this acclaimed academic model is a point of pride for us, our students, and our graduates.

Though WGU Tennessee courses are all online, students receive one-on-one support from a faculty mentor who guides them through the program and is available to answer questions. Our instructors are among the best in their fields. We value integrity - WGU utilizes state-of-the-art methods for ensuring student identity in testing and assessment.

These differentiators, our competency-based approach, and the affordability of WGU Tennessee - a full year of tuition is just $6,000 for an unlimited number of courses - make it a valuable option for working adults and a tremendous opportunity to support Gov. Haslam's "Drive to 55" initiative, which aims for 55 percent of Tennesseans to have at least an associate-level degree by 2025.

A trained and educated workforce is vital to the state's economy, and WGU Tennessee is providing another high-quality option and a completely different education model for adults in the state who wish to complete a bachelor's or master's degree. We look forward to working with institutions such as Chattanooga State and helping Chattanoogans who wish to advance their education in order to further their careers.

Kimberly K. Estep, Ph.D., is the chancellor of WGU Tennessee. For more information, visit the WGU Tennessee website, http://tennessee.wgu.edu/, or call 855-948-8495.