Sramana Mitra: You have the national number and you have all these WGU state chapters?
Ray Martinez: Exactly, we have our state-branded universities but they’re all a part of the national university, which again is Western Governors University. Here in Texas, our student population is close to 5,000. Majority of our students are enrolled in our undergraduate degree programs. However, slightly more than a third of our students are enrolled in various master’s degree programs that we offer in one of those four colleges that I talked about earlier.
Sramana Mitra: How is the teaching done? Is that done out of a central office?
Ray Martinez: Our faculty is divided into several different roles. I’ve been an adjunct faculty member in the Law School here Austin, Texas in a traditional higher education setting. As a typical faculty member at a brick-and-mortar higher education institution, the faculty serves part time as student counselors because you have to talk to students and encourage them to continue their program. As faculty members, you have to be the subject matter expert. In the courses that I teach, I need to know what I’m talking about when it comes to the lesson plans that I’ve put together and the materials that I want to convey to students over a typical 14-week semester. As a faculty member, I also have to be the evaluator. It is my job to evaluate the performance of the students and figure out what grade they should be assessed at the end of the traditional semester.
That’s not how we do it at WGU. We actually divide the role of counselor, subject matter expert, and evaluator into three different faculty roles. To begin with, we have what’s called the student mentor. The student mentor serves as that student advisor or counselor role that a traditional faculty member has to do on many occasions. Most of our student mentors have advance degrees, at least master’s. They are highly credentialed individuals and their job is to work with a cohort of students. Typically, 75 to 100 per student mentor. The job of the student mentor is to stay in touch with the students that they’ve been assigned and ensure that they’re getting the resources and support that the student needs to stay focused on degree completion.
Typically, a student mentor will talk to a student at least once a week. Sometimes, more than that. It’s an important role. It’s important for us that when we accept a student into WGU, that we don’t say to the student, “OK, now that you’re accepted, good luck. It’s between you and your computer.” We actually discourage that and what we do is we counter that by having this vigorous and important role of student mentors whose job is to stay in touch and make sure our students stay focused on degree completion. That’s one part of our faculty.