CLEVELAND — Ohio like many states has what is known as a skills gap, jobs to fill but because of the education or skills requirements not enough people to fill them. For those currently in the workforce, the task of balancing a full-time job and returning to school is daunting. That's why many are turning to online universities.
"77% of our students work full time," said Rebecca Watt, chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Ohio, an accredited online university that began operations in Ohio last year. "Our average student age is 35, so they are full-time working adults, most of them have had some college experience but no degree."
"We really believe that we are addressing that skills gap because we only have 60 programs across four very targeted colleges; information technology, business, health professions which is almost exclusively nursing and then teachers," Watt said. "So really .those in demand careers where the talent pipeline is something of great demand and need in Ohio."
Ashley Cammerata is about to begin her pursuit of her masters at WGU Ohio. She works full-time at Cuyahoga Community College in student accounting.
"I love the idea of how like the learning process is at WGU and I love that its all online because I work full-time and I can do it when I get home or when I have time and it was just the best option for me," she said.
WGU Ohio has grown to over 3,000 students with around 300 taking classes in Cuyahoga County. The number of online universities are growing to meet the needs of the job market.
"The innovations that will take place across higher education in the coming years will be something like we've never seen before," Watt said. "It is important for post secondary education institutions to meet students where they are."
For years there was a stigma associated with online universities, something Watt said is fading.
"Anything that steps outside of tradition sometimes tends to have a stigma mostly because people don't understand it. I am a community college graduate myself and I also hold a PhD from Ohio University, you can marry traditional and non traditional paths and get great outcomes."
And students can do the coursework on their own time.
"There is a reason that WGU's mascot is an owl because our students are night owls, they work all day, they spend time with their families in the evening and then they become night owls and they study at night, on the weekends, in the spaces of their life," she said.