The academy, which uses competency-based education, began enrolling students last year that the university deemed not yet ready for its regular programs. It guarantees students admission to the university if they meet certain requirements.
By separating from the university, WGU Academy aims to expand its work offering similar college-readiness and developmental education programs to employers, high schools and other higher education institutions.
WGU Academy students pay a monthly fee of $150 and can take college-level courses in several subjects, such as writing and math. Students also enroll in a noncredit course meant to develop confidence and learning skills.
The program has enrolled more than 10,000 students since it opened in April 2019. And an internal analysis found that students who completed the program and enrolled in Western Governors tend to have stronger retention rates than the online college’s average student, said WGU Academy President Pat Partridge.
Spinning off from Western Governors opens up new opportunities, Partridge added. “It signals to the rest of higher education and other organizations that we are not just there to serve WGU,” he said. “Our big vision is to be able to help students across a very wide domain of possible groups and audiences.”
WGU Academy has been piloting programs with several organizations and schools. In 2019, it partnered with tnAchieves, a nonprofit that supports Tennessee’s tuition-free community college program. Together, they piloted an online summer bridge program for 20 high school graduates who were heading to one of the state’s community colleges and had scored below average on the ACT exam.
Seventeen students completed the program, and a dozen of them were interviewed by WGU Academy about their first term in college. Of those, 11 had begun their second term and at least four tested out of developmental math and language courses, according to a WGU Academy report.
One of WGU Academy’s current focuses is partnering with community colleges, including those that have long-standing relationships with Western Governors, Partridge said.
“We’re going to be facing a year or two where there’s an awful lot of stress that students have to deal with,” he said. “We believe we can actually help those students be prepared and develop some resilience that will, in effect, help them persist.”