By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
Sixty-two percent more Howard County adults enrolled in the online Western Governors University Indiana this year, according to data provided by the institution.
From September 2011 to September 2012, the WGU student population in Howard County grew from 21 to 34 students.
In that same time frame, total student enrollment grew by about 50 percent, officials said.
Enrollment was just above 1,000 students in May 2011. At that time, 13 students from Howard County attended the school.
The university enrolled 3,000 students this year, a milestone for WGU.
“The overwhelming success of WGU Indiana over such a short period shows that many adult Hoosiers are searching for a way to complete their college education while balancing family life and careers,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a press release.
Daniels established WGU Indiana by executive order June 11, 2010, with a mission of expanding access to affordable higher education.
According to the Lumina Foundation, Indiana has 740,000 adults who have some college education but no degree.
“As I have traveled to every corner of this state, I have been reminded of the challenges working adults have in pursuing an affordable college degree,” WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Barber said. “The need is great... So, the good news is that 3,000 students have already discovered that we’re here to help them finish what they started years ago.”
Barber said WGU has become a leading educator of science, technology, engineering and math teachers in rural communities across the state.
The college is attractive because adults can get their degree online from the comfort of their home, Barber said.
“So many working adults just can’t make the drive to a campus,” she said.
Barber said the university also ranks in the top five in the state for number of students enrolled in its master of business administration program.
The chancellor said WGU has grown faster than she expected.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “It means there’s a need we’re meeting.”
She attributed the growth mostly to word-of-mouth recommendations from other students.
Students share their success stories with friends and family members, and soon those people become interested in the school, she said.
Barber talked about one student who gets up at 4 a.m. every day to do school work from home because she’s a single parent and doesn’t want to miss her son’s after-school activities.
Staff members share those success stories when they travel the state spreading the word about the online university.
Barber said they travel 1,000 miles per month speaking at schools, hospitals and rotary clubs.
They tell the story of WGU, and people are hearing it, she said.
“It’s an option so many adults need and want,” she said.