Western Governors University is an online university that was created by governors of 19 states, including Texas, in 1997, and has grown steadily over time. Currently, roughly 1,600 Texans — out of about 25,000 students nationally — are enrolled in the university. For some perspective, that's slightly less than the total enrollment at Texas A&M University at Galveston, one of the state's smallest public four-year universities.
As noted in the press release announcing the initiative, WGU primarily serves working adults whose work schedules demand flexibility. By taking courses at their own pace and advancing based on proven competency — as opposed to logging a requisite number of hours — WGU lets them earn bachelor's and master's degrees in areas such as business, information technology, education, and health professions. Tuition is about $5,780 per year.
WGU Texas, which does not receive state funding, is being created by an executive order that calls on state agencies such as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Education Agency, and Texas Workforce Commission, to step up their coordination, data sharing, and involvement in WGU. It also establishes an advisory board that will be appointed by the governor.
Robert Mendenhall, the president of WGU, said, "We look forward to this partnership with the state, which will help thousands of Texans earn the college degrees they want and need, on a schedule they can manage, at a cost they can afford."
Higher education costs have been a repeated theme of Perry's in recent months. Earlier this year, he famously called for the creation of a $10,000 bachelor's degree (books included) in his State of the State address — a level of affordability this new option might not quite reach at WGU's current costs.
Texas is also currently lagging in higher education goals for certifying teachers and graduating minority students, which make up a large chunk of WGU's population. Branch and others hope this new option will help boost the state's workforce. "Texas needs legions of new, sharp, credentialed minds to succeed in a knowledge-based economy," he said.