Western Governors University Closing the Gap in Tech Employment

Oregon is already home to nearly 4,000 WGU graduates, many of whom are busy, midcareer adults.

Brand Story – Accessible, affordable and in-demand online learning for tomorrow’s tech.

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In Oregon, and indeed throughout the nation, skilled tech workers are in high demand. The Consumer Technology Association’s study of future work, published in September 2019, reported that tech industry leaders believe the key to adapting to the evolving tech workforce is aggressively hiring more skilled employees. Making that more complicated, four out of five survey respondents said they have a hard time finding enough skilled candidates to fill positions at their companies.

According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, high-tech careers are among the fastest growing in the state, with software developers, in particular, experiencing 33% growth.

Western Governors University is helping close that gap by offering affordable, online degree programs for busy adults seeking to increase their skills. WGU came about 23 years ago because 19 U.S. governors believed in leveraging technology to provide working adults with a flexible and accommodating higher learning platform. Private, nonprofit and accredited, WGU puts students in the driver’s seat toward their career goals, with flat-rate tuition every six months rather than per credit, and start dates every month.

“Early on in our history we unlinked learning and seat time,” says Dr. Tonya Drake, WGU’s regional vice president. “And we unlinked the idea that learning has to take place in either quarters or semesters.”

WGU’s competency-based approach means learners who bring experience and knowledge from their careers just need to demonstrate that knowledge. An individual who has already been working in their field but is non-credentialed can advance faster, or make a career change with additional skills.

Courses are designed to be moved through at the student’s own pace with personalized support, and Drake says students complete much faster and with less debt — students pay a flat rate of about $3,500 for six months, for as many classes as they want to take.

Dr. Tonya Drake Regional Vice PresidentDr. Tonya Drake

“Our students typically complete a Master’s degree between 12 and 18 months,” says Drake. “And we designed our courses to represent high-demand programs, so that students will come out with jobs as teachers, business administrators, nurses or in IT fields.”

One of the innovative pathways that WGU created is a micro-bachelor’s program through the edX platform. This entry-level certificate is geared towards learners who are already working, but have an interest in exploring three different areas of IT to see where they would like to focus. The program stacks into WGU’s full bachelor’s degree programs.

Portland resident Michael Poznanski graduated from WGU in November 2019 with a Master’s of Science and Data Analytics. Poznanski has worked in data analytics for eight years, so it felt like a logical step to earn his degree, and the online programs allowed him to continue working while he did so.

“It was the WGU model that caused me to pursue it,” Poznanski says. “I knew the time commitment and the debt load of traditional classrooms wouldn’t work for me.”

Poznanski knew from his earlier schooling that he does not enjoy the traditional in-seat classroom, and he found that the self-guided learning worked well for him. A competency-based program with 24/7 access to online-learning resources means a motivated learner like Poznanski can advance when they have learned the material, not just when the semester ends.

“I could learn when I was willing and ready to focus, and not just because I had to be listening to a lecture,” he says. “In classrooms, the instructor is going to continue speaking whether or not you’re paying attention.”

Drake says that degrees matter, but employers want demonstrated skill. WGU’s program allows hard-working mid-career adults to channel the skills they have into the skills they need, while in many cases still gaining valuable on-the-job experience.

“Technology, in particular, is a field that is changing quickly,” says Drake. “We see that the need for workers to adapt to those changes is really important. Whether you’re coming back to school to upskill or you want a total career change, we’re supporting our students in whatever their goals are and providing them with pathways to successful careers in in-demand fields.”

To learn more about the programs offered at WGU vist us at wgu.edu


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.