By Emily West, The Tennessean
Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday launched Western Governors University Tennessee, an online school aimed at giving adults a cost-efficient way to finish their degrees.
WGU Tennessee will now have 700 students merged into its program who seek accredited bachelor's or master's degrees in business, education, health or information technology. The college is designed for adults who want to complete degrees but cannot finish at a traditional university.
"We think more than 800,000 Tennesseans have college credit but not a degree," Haslam said. "The world is changing, and for a lot of those folks, the job they have and maybe didn't require a degree in the past, either does now or will in the future."
Gates grant helps
The state is funding the program with $5 million and got a $750,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the Tennessee startup. During the next few months, WGU will look for more state aid and plans to help its graduates find jobs.
Kimberly Estep, former vice president of academic affairs at Nashville State Community College, agreed with Haslam's Drive to 55 initiative, a goal for the state to have at least 55 percent of adults holding at least a two-year degree by 2025. Only 32 percent of the state's adult population now has those degrees. As the school's first chancellor, Estep wants WGU to help adult learners obtain the degrees they desire.
One adult learner, Amber Parker of Nashville, said she wanted to find a way to earn her master's degree in health care administration.
"I wanted to go to an affordable university, and it allowed me to have a flexible schedule," Parker said. "I can do work when I want and however long I want. I can balance it well with my work schedule because I work full time at HealthStream."
Parker went to Tennessee State University for her bachelor's degree in health care administration, and she has one year left until she completes her master's. Cost was a factor for her, as it is for many adult learners.
WGU costs around $6,000 per year to attend, which is cheaper when compared to schools in the Tennessee Board of Regents or University of Tennessee systems.
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