Gates Foundation Awards $1.2 Million to Study Effectiveness of Online Degree Program for Low-Income Students
July 7, 2009 — Today, Western Governors University, one of the nation's leading online colleges, announced a $1.2 million investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to examine how its flexible, competency-based degree programs can help improve the nation's low graduation rates among low-income and minority students ages 18-26.
In today's economy, a college degree is a prerequisite for economic success. Yet where the United States was once first in the world in postsecondary completion rates, it now ranks tenth. Until recently, reform efforts and national policies have focused on increasing access to college and certification. But those efforts have done little to actually help students earn the credentials they need to obtain well-paying jobs and a better life.
A recent Gates Foundation-commissioned study conducted by Leo Burnett determined the challenge of juggling work and class schedules to be one of the largest hurdles facing young people as they try to earn a degree. While these students, who are disproportionately from low-income families, believe a stable work schedule would help them complete a postsecondary program, they also believe that access to affordable, high-quality online degree programs could greatly alleviate the problem. Many of these students also cite their preference for an accelerated program that will help them gain critical skills and join the workforce quickly, so they can support themselves and their families.
Nationwide, the number of people taking classes online continues to grow, and 20 percent of higher education students now take at least one online course. Newly released Department of Education research revealed that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face to face instruction.
"WGU is committed to developing education models that work for American college students who can't attend a traditional college or have to work," said WGU President Robert Mendenhall. "This grant will help us identify and implement the factors that will help these students successfully complete their education."