BLOUNTVILLE — The community college serving much of Northeast Tennessee has a new articulation agreement and discount deal with WGU Tennessee, an online university geared toward nontraditional students.
Northeast State Community College graduates, faculty and staff will be able to transfer credits from Northeast to WGU Tennessee seamlessly.
NSCC and WGU Tennessee, http://tennessee.wgu.edu/, announced Wednesday morning the signing of the agreement, as well as a memorandum of understanding that allow Northeast State graduates and staff to receive application fee waivers and a 5 percent discount on tuition to WGU. Normal WGU tuition is $3,000 a semester or $6,000 a year, regardless of how many semester hours a student takes.
Tennessee lawmakers put $5 million in start-up money into WGU, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided $750,000 and private donors are being sought. After startup, the program is to be self-sustaining on tuition.
“The relationship between Northeast State and WGU Tennessee is beneficial to both institutions and, most importantly, to our students,” NSCC President Janice Gilliam said. “Our ultimate goal is to ensure that our students are successful in their education and careers and the benefits offered through our partnership with WGU Tennessee will put them on the fast track to success.”
Gilliam, WGU Chancellor Kimberly Estep and WGU Advisory Board member David Golden of Eastman Chemical Co. attended the news conference at the Northeast library.
WGU, or Western Governors University, was founded in the late 1990s by 19 western U.S. governors as a private, not-for-profit online university to serve non-traditional students.
It offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information technology, business, health sciences, made up of nursing and health infomatics, and K-12 education and fits into Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, with a goal to get 55 percent of Tennesseans with a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree by 2025. Currently, about 30 percent of Tennesseans fall into that category, and without a concerted effort that was projected to grow only to 39 percent by 2025, Gilliam said.
“Our mission (at Northeast State) is three things: access, completion and community,” Gilliam said at the news conference. With the main campus in Blountville and satellite campuses in Kingsport, Bristol, Johnson City, Erwin and Mountain City, said Northeast is well positioned to help adults already in the work force earn an associate’s degree and then move to a bachelor’s pursuit through the “sister institution” of WGU.
“We have to provide methodologies that fit with students’ lifestyles,” Gilliam said. An almost 30-year veteran of the North Carolina community college system before she came to Tennessee to head Northeast State, Gilliam said she wouldn’t be where she is today if she hadn’t taken independent study as a working mother of three. Today, she said nontraditional students have more paths and help available.
“It (the WGU agreement and MOU) will be a huge benefit to them (students),” Gilliam said.
She said WGU is competency based and accredited and has coaching, reasonable tuition and mentoring to help students. She said WGU, Northeast and the agreement and MOU between the two will help the Drive to 55 as well as the Complete College Act. The Tennessee Transfer Pathway ensures credit transfer to and from all Tennessee public post-secondary institutions, and Northeast also has articulation agreements with private colleges in the region, including King University, Tusculum College and Milligan College.
“They say knowledge is power,” said Golden, senior vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary for Eastman, at the news conference. “I think knowledge is freedom. I’m very proud and impressed about what we’re announcing today.”
Estep said WGU is “here to do everything we can to help East Tennessee” and the rest of the state improve post-secondary education attainment.
“Northeast State does a wonderful job preparing students up to the associate level,” Estep told reporters after the news conference, saying WGU was an extension of the “lifelong education pathway.”
She said any Northeast graduate, no matter how long ago, is eligible for the seamless transition of credits, waiver of application fee and 5 percent tuition discount.
WGU was formed in 1997 and opened for business in 1999. Estep said students can enroll with no college credit but that only 5 percent or so of enrolling students at WGU have no college credit. She said the average college credit among new enrollees is 28 semester hours. Golden said any improvement in education attainment helps the region and its business and industry.
“We believe that anything that helps the region with education access is good for everyone,” Golden said.