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Celebrating increased options in education

In Indiana, we have set a goal of reaching higher in building a well-educated workforce. With growing national and international competition, the economic well-being of our citizens and our state is increasingly tied to this goal. Yet, unfortunately, Indiana ranks a dismal 40th in terms of college attainment, according to the Lumina Foundation.

This is why WGU Indiana was created two years ago this month by executive order of Gov. Mitch Daniels – to expand higher education options and access for Indiana residents, particularly for those who require affordability and flexibility to complete the degrees they started years ago.

As the board of advisors for WGU Indiana, we have kept the university’s goal laser-focused: to take away as many barriers to achieving a degree as possible. Many Hoosiers have put in a lot of hard work pursuing a college degree, only to be interrupted by the demands of life. Others are working full time, raising a family, and haven’t found the time to attend classes to pursue a post-secondary or graduate degree.

We firmly believe that WGU Indiana complements our other fine academic institutions in this state by making going to college more affordable and convenient for working adults while taking full advantage of the technology and innovation of online learning in the 21st century.

So congratulations to the students, alumni and faculty of WGU Indiana on their two-year anniversary. There are many achievements worth celebrating, including the fact that WGU Indiana’s enrollment now tops 2,600 students statewide, and there are or have been students and graduates from all 92 counties in Indiana. WGU has quickly earned a reputation for producing highly qualified graduates who have the skills employers need. In a 2011 survey by Harris Interactive, 98 percent of employers who had hired WGU graduates said those graduates met or exceeded their expectations; 100 percent would not hesitate to hire another WGU Indiana graduate.

As our chancellor, Allison Barber, travels the state and meets WGU Indiana students, what she reports is most impressive. The motivating relationship students have with their faculty mentors is making all the difference. These hardworking Hoosiers, who provide critical guidance and encouragement to WGU students, believe as we do that a degree is attainable and changes lives for the better.

For it is clear: College completion counts. The lifetime earning potential of a student who does not complete higher education is more than $1 million less than an individual with a college degree, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. Perhaps more important is the sense of satisfaction and pride college graduates feel when they can say, “I did it!” There is no question that the benefits of completing college are enormous for graduates, their employers and the community.

Again, congratulations to WGU Indiana, Indiana’s eighth state university. Let’s encourage those who once started down the path of a college degree to complete that journey. Let’s inspire them to make the investment that will pay dividends for long after. And let’s make this a sustaining legacy in Indiana.

The WGU Indiana Advisory Board is a seven-member panel that includes Linda Buskirk, president and owner of Accountable Solutions, Inc.