Nebraska partners with online university to provide opportunities for adult learners
LINCOLN — In the latest phase of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ efforts to improve Nebraska’s “talent pipeline,” the state is partnering with a private, nonprofit online university to expand access to affordable higher education.
On Tuesday, Ricketts signed an agreement with Western Governors University (WGU) that will connect the university with local community colleges and make WGU students eligible for the Nebraska Opportunity Grant, a need-based grant program funded by funds of lottery. As a result of the agreement, WGU President Scott Pulsipher said the university will also open $200,000 in scholarships for Nebraska students.
During Ricketts’ tenure, the state invested millions in improving what he described as the “talent pipeline” from students to workers, in an effort to address labor shortages in the Nebraska. However, Ricketts said one demographic that hasn’t received as much attention is “non-traditional” adult learners.
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Ricketts said more than 70% of jobs now require a post-secondary degree, but only about half of adults in Nebraska have such a degree. Additionally, Pulsipher said about 300,000 Nebraskans have some college experience but no degree in what he described as “untapped talent.”
The average age of a WGU student is 34, Ricketts said, making him a prime candidate for the partnership. Not only is the university’s online format appealing to adult learners, but it also offers flexible scheduling and “skills-based education,” which allows students to test course requirements. Pulsipher said the average WGU student graduates in about two years and four months.
Nebraska is the 12th state to partner with WGU to provide financial aid opportunities, Pulsipher said.
“We were created by states for states,” he said.
Part of the partnership will also connect WGU with community colleges in Nebraska to provide students with a “seamless transition” from pursuing a two-year degree to a four-year degree if they choose, Pulsipher said.
One of the partner community colleges is Southeast Community College in Lincoln. President Paul Illich said the agreement will help the college provide more education options for its students.
“We don’t own learning,” Illich said. “Learning happens everywhere.”
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