At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, WGU student Yolanda was an essential worker with a high-risk son at home. Making ends meet as both a mother and a learner was hard enough, but posing a serious health risk to her son was something Yolanda wouldn’t do–so she left her job.
As Yolanda’s savings dwindled and the pandemic raged on, she found herself using her Wi-Fi payment as a sort of slush fund. If she couldn’t afford to keep the lights on, she’d go a month without internet to pay the electric bill. No internet meant no school; in order to keep her son safe, Yolanda had to put her online education at WGU at risk.
While an education is a worthy trade for the safety of a child, at WGU, we believe that it’s a trade that no mother should ever be forced to make. But stories like Yolanda’s are all-too familiar for students at WGU, 22% of whom are classified as low-income.
22 percent of WGU students are classified as low-income.
WGU has been a groundbreaking school since its founding–even without being built on literal ground. We’re here not only to empower students, but to offer an education that anyone can afford and access. We’re here to break down barriers, not add another with a tuition wall. In 1997, the year WGU was founded, annual tuition at a public four-year college was $4,740. The cost has risen over 500% in the years since, averaging out to $25,707 per year. This is the most affordable option for an in-state student attending a public university. Keep in mind WGU is a private, non-profit school. Comparable schools average $54,501 per year, more than double the $21,020 a year in 1997.
While our online-only curriculum can help learners find a pathway to a degree that works with their schedule, we understand that to even access that flexible learning, students must first clear yet another hurdle: tuition.
Our first step to making education more affordable comes in the form of our tuition structure. Instead of semesters, we break our years into two six-month terms. By pricing per term, we can offer a year of a bachelor’s level education for just under $7,500–well below the national average yearly tuition for both public and private universities. We don’t price per credit hour like most other universities do, meaning our students can complete much more work for much less cost.
But thousands of dollars is still thousands of dollars. When students are in financial straits so dire they have to debate which utility to pay, finding an extra $7,500 is more than tough–it’s impossible. Education may be the best pathway to breaking out of the poverty cycle, but it still costs money.
That’s why WGU invests in our students by maintaining robust scholarship programs. In 2019, more than eight thousand students received scholarships from WGU–working out to more than 15 million dollars worth of scholarships. We continued to increase offered aid throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, awarding 25 million dollars worth of scholarships to 20,000 of our students in 2021.
Paying for school does not stop at tuition, so our scholarships don’t stop there either. We offer additional assistance, such as the online access scholarship. Books, tools, utilities like internet: all of these and more are needed for school and cost money that many learners don’t have. If a student has to choose between paying for internet access or electric heat in the dead of winter, they’re going to choose the heat, meaning their education is on hold for that month.
We base our scholarships on financial need, not academic prowess, so that those in the most need can receive the most assistance. We want our education to be accessible to all students, meaning we have to prioritize empowering low-income students who wouldn’t be otherwise able to afford an education.
Thanks to our online access scholarship, Yolanda was able to secure funds to continue her online education while keeping the lights on and–most importantly, keeping her son safe. With WGU’s extensive and generous scholarship programs, we’re empowering students just like Yolanda to keep pursuing their degrees, creating pathways to brighter futures.