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State Policy Playbook

The WGU 2023 State Policy Playbook highlights specific barriers that impact working adult learners, with a focus on adults in low-income, low-resiliency jobs, who are referred to as rising and stranded talent. This playbook offers recommendations for policymakers and provides examples of existing policies that help working adult learners succeed.

Western Governors University believes that higher education should be:


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These value propositions guide the policy recommendations in this playbook. These recommendations are designed around the unique post-secondary educational journey of the working adult learner. Each proposition is tailored to the distinctive policy needs of working adult learners so that, regardless of the realities learners face, states can tailor affordable and flexible options that provide rising and stranded talent with the opportunity to succeed and prepare them to meet current and future workforce demands. Policymakers can use these recommendations to ensure that working adult learners have accessible, accommodating, achievable, affordable, and applicable pathways to higher education.

Western Governors University (WGU) is unique in that, from the onset, it was designed to primarily serve working adult learners and was built with the needs of those learners in mind. Four out of five WGU students work while enrolled, and their average age is 37.3. They come to WGU seeking a path to opportunity that can fit in their lives, that can meet them where they are, that allows them to leverage their experience and move quickly when possible, and that will enable them to thrive—financially and otherwise. 

Two segments of working adult learners—rising talent and stranded talent—have additional challenges that create barriers to success. Individuals in both groups primarily work in low-income positions with little job security. In addition, individuals in these groups may face difficulties such as disability, single parenthood, prior incarceration, or homelessness. Despite their hardships, these groups of working adult learners have unlimited potential for achievement if provided with fitting postsecondary pathways. 

Learner Profile

Nam Clark

Arlington, VA
M.A. Teaching, Social Science (5–12)

After working in the restaurant industry for decades, Nam decided to switch careers. His positive experiences teaching English abroad motivated him to pursue a graduate degree in teaching, and he found that he thrived in the classroom. Upon graduation, Nam was offered a competitive full-time position to teach English as a second language at a diverse middle school.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that a college education improves personal income, job security, and well-being. Despite evidence linking education to individual and societal prosperity, millions of Americans lack higher education and crucial work skills. For working adult learners who desire career growth, including rising and stranded talent, effective policies can remove barriers that prevent them from achieving their potential. These policies can have life-changing effects and have broader impacts. Legislation and standards that smooth the way for working adult learners help foster a skilled workforce, strengthen the economy, and create resilient communities. When higher education fulfills its purpose—providing pathways to opportunity—individuals and communities thrive. 

Policy creation, however, is not the last stop on the journey to educational improvement. Policies become effective when state, local, and institutional leaders ensure that the individuals addressed by these policies understand the opportunities available to them and have the resources and support they need. WGU invites all state and local policymakers to join us as active partners in our pursuit to better serve today’s working adult learners.

About WGU

WGU was established in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors with a mission to expand access to high-quality, affordable higher education. This online nonprofit university now serves more than 130,000 students nationwide and has more than 297,000 graduates in all 50 states. Driving innovation as the nation’s leading competency-based university, WGU has been recognized by the White House, state leaders, employers, and students as a model that works in postsecondary education. In just 25 years, the university has become a leading influence in changing the lives of individuals and families and preparing the workforce needed in today’s rapidly evolving economy. WGU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, and has been featured in The New York Times and on NPR, NBC Nightly News, and CNN. Learn more at and  

Please contact the Public Policy team at for more information.