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Haslam Launches Online Degree Program In Tennessee

Haslam Launches Online Degree Program In Tennessee

CREATED Jul 9, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Governor Bill Haslam has launched an online, competency-based university aimed at giving Tennesseans better access to a higher education.

WGU Tennessee was created through a partnership between the state of Tennessee and nationally recognized Western Governors University.

Western Governors University President Robert W. Mendenhall joined Haslam on Tuesday to sign the memorandum of understanding that officially establishes the university in Tennessee.

"WGU Tennessee will give adult students with some college credits the opportunity to earn a degree," Haslam said.  "Today in Tennessee, only 32 percent of our citizens have a two-year degree or higher, and our goal is to raise that number to 55 percent by 2025.  We're calling it the 'Drive to 55,' and WGU Tennessee will play an important role in our success."

Officials said it was formed to meet the needs of working adults who are looking to complete a bachelor's or master's degree to advance their careers.

WGU Tennessee offers accredited programs in business, K-12 teacher education, information technology, and health professions, including nursing.

It uses an innovative learning model called competency-based education. That means that rather than earning a degree based on credit hours or time spent in a class, students will have to demonstrate competency in the subject-matter.

Tuition is about $6,000 a year for most degree programs, regardless of how many courses a student completes.

Dr. Kimberly Estep will serve as WGU Tennessee's first chancellor. She joined the university after serving as vice president for academic affairs and student services at Nashville State Community College. 

Legislators were hesitant to spend $5 million to open an office of Western Governors University, which targets people who have some college credit but never finished a degree.

Lawmakers argued that Tennessee's existing public colleges could start a similar program, but Haslam convinced them to go with the Salt Lake City-based nonprofit.

Rich Rhoda, who heads the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said a local WGU branch is a "small and very worthwhile investment."

Rhoda said Tennessee needs all the providers it can get.

The state has set a goal to graduate 55 percent of residents from college, meaning as many as 100,000 adult Tennesseans need to finish school.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)