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The City Journals

WGU promotes bill to support Utah adults finishing school

Jun 10, 2021 01:55PM ● By Hannah La Fond

Students from Canyon View High School meet Governor Spencer Cox at signing of HB 328. (Kristen Kerr with Exoro Public Relations)

Hannah LaFond | [email protected]

On April 26, Gov. Spencer Cox gathered with lawmakers, students, and representatives from Western Governor's Union to sign HB 328, a bill from the most recent legislative session aimed to help adult learners finish their degrees.

HB 328, or the Adult Learners Grant Program, offers financial aid to eligible students over 26 seeking to finish a degree or certificate online. Currently, there are more than 370,000 Utahns with some Postsecondary education credits but no degree or certificate. This bill focuses on removing financial barriers to allow such students to finish their program and enter the workforce. 

Since this demographic makes up most of WGU's students, it's only fitting the institution wholeheartedly supported the bill. WGU pledged $1 million in scholarships to support the grant program and hosted an online panel discussing the new legislation before the ceremonial signing. 

During the panel, WGU student Israel Sanchez spoke about his experience as an older student returning to school to complete his degree. 

Sanchez has been chipping away at his bachelor's for years. Speaking to the panel of lawmakers and educators, he said he'd taken classes in everything from "Real estate classes to psychology classes to culinary arts, and I feel like I have a doctorate in randomness I've been working at this so long." 

But, those credits hadn't yet amounted to a bachelor's. After taking a break for some time, Sanchez decided he wanted to go back and finish his degree. By that point, his life was too busy to attend school in the typical sense. At 33, he had a family to think about and a full-time job. Driving to campus and sitting through lectures wasn't an option. 

Instead, he signed up for WGU's online program. Thanks to the program's flexibility, he'll be graduating in a year with his degree in healthcare administration. And, he told the panel that because he was able to keep his full-time employment, he and his wife have paid off their student loans, and he's looking forward to being debt-free upon graduation.

Sponsor of HB 328, Representative Lowry Snow (R-St. George), explained that this is precisely why the bill specifically targeted online learning. Because a majority of these adult students have full-time jobs, family, and other commitments, it's difficult for them to work with a typical campus schedule. On top of that, many of them live in rural areas where the commute to campus alone would be a huge time commitment. 

By making online programs more affordable, they hope to provide better access for these students. Through more flexible programs, anyone who can get online can finish their program according to their own schedule.

"They can work on their degree after the children have gone to bed, or during the weekends, or any of their off time," Snow said. "This is just the beginning. When we see the outcome that is going to be generated from Israel and others like him, I think it's going to catch on."