Acorn to Tree LLC was created by NYS certified teacher and mother Patrice Badami.
Patrice Badami has a Masters in Elementary Education and Special Education. She has advocated for families of special needs children as well as for her own children with special needs.
Acorn to Tree Learn and Grow was created to help all children and their families have access to free educational and recreational resources.
Patrice Badami 0:00
Oh hi, this is Patrice Badami, with Acorn to tree family podcast. And today my guest is Richard Benbow. He’s the regional vice president of Western Governors University, the First Nation’s the nation’s first and largest competency based university. In this role, Mr. Benbow combines his passion for innovation and information technology with his desire to serve others to provide access to affordable high quality education for underserved adult learners throughout the region. He leads a team that executes strategy and operations to optimize Student Success utilizing the WGU platform, and developing partnership relationships with drive which drive value for employers and students. Hello, Richard, how are you today?
Richard Benbow 0:51
I am fantastic. Patrice. Thanks so much for having me. This afternoon. Really appreciate the time and the opportunity to discuss and talk about WG Western Governors University.
Patrice Badami 1:03
Okay, great. Um, so first, what I wanted to do is just for people who want to know what competency based model is, can you explain that?
Richard Benbow 1:12
Sure, competency based learning is essentially puts more emphasis on the acquisition of skills and competencies, as opposed to memorizing stats and figures. For Final. We believe at W GU, that a student’s journey is enhanced through competency based learning in our students can progress through their educational journey by demonstrating mastery of skills and competencies associated with a specific course, as opposed to advancing at the end of the semester, or just filling the seat time in a typical semester long, of course, so our students have the ability to maybe leverage prior learning experience, prior work experience, and apply that knowledge and even that skill set to their educational journey at WVU, the competency based model, from this standpoint of perspectives allow students to leverage what they have learned. So they can focus on what they have yet to understand or master. And as such, our students are able to accelerate or essentially progress at their own pace. So those who need more time can certainly take more time. And then those who feel that they can accelerate, certainly have the ability to accelerate to the curriculum as well.
Patrice Badami 2:30
Right. So what we’re discussing is, there’s a realistic plan in place for people who are just trying, it’s the first time there may be online trying to, you know, better their careers. So they can remove the stress, the pressure of feeling like there are specific due dates, they work at their own pace, the pressures of deadlines are eliminated. And it’s very flexible, that’s really important for people who might have families and they’re doing this maybe in the evenings, so that they can feel confident that they can succeed without having the pressure of specifically having to hand in assignments, for example, but I did it, I had till 1159 On every Sunday, and I didn’t have everything and so that’s eliminated, you go at your own pace, which really is going to be amazing for a lot of people. Um, something else I wanted to ask you is How has COVID, the COVID endemic change the higher education landscape?
Richard Benbow 3:29
Yes, COVID has certainly impacted that higher education, landscape. In essence, during the pandemic, traditional universities found themselves in a situation where they wanted to continue to deliver education, and provide education to their students. And the pandemic forced them to move that curriculum online and essentially, still provide the value to their students still have students matriculate and progress to earn their degree despite the pandemic. Now, many, you know, in the higher ed space, or as I say, many students didn’t feel that this was a good experience for them. And that most institutions simply took their on their in person lectures, and just move them online. And I think from a student’s perspective, the experience was not as expected, or to their liking. And as a result of that, many students really didn’t enjoy that experience. But at WVU. It didn’t take a pandemic for us to move online. We started off and were launched online, but the idea of removing those barriers for those students who weren’t well served by traditional brick and mortar institutions. And so from that perspective, we have 25 years of delivering curriculum From a competency based perspective, so we have a little bit of knowledge in terms of what works and what doesn’t work. And I think the traditional higher ed system is still trying to grapple with the dynamic of online instruction, how to increase engagement, and really how to enhance the in person electro model to fit online. And I think a lot of institutions, traditional institutions are looking at that model and trying to figure it out. But at the same time, there is an interest in protecting the in residency model, after all they have been doing most of them have been doing that for 100 years or so. And that is their business model. Whereas WD, we took a different approach, our approach is very student centric, we’re more inclusive, and we try to enhance or avail the Higher Education Opportunity to as many folks who want to partake who are as motivated and qualified to enter the higher education landscape, right. Offering an online competency based model.
Patrice Badami 6:10
What I was going to say is, interestingly enough, from my experience, I like online learning. And I actually feel it’s more personal, believe it or not, that’s what the there’s like a stigma. People feel that online learning is more, it’s not as personal. However, because you have a really important program, you have a mentorship, where there, as you begin the program, you’re assigned a mentor, who helps to support you. And throughout gret, from the moment you start until you graduate. That’s a very personal experience that isn’t always available at other other universities. But the other thing is, because you’ve always done it online, you’ve always provided the curriculum online, you’ve perfected the way it’s delivered. And you’re aware of the need for people to feel included. So I’m sure that that’s that’s what I think is really important for people to know is that it’s not impersonal, it’s more personal, and you’re provided with all the support that you require to succeed. The other thing is that what’s important is that Western Governors University offers, they’re really conscious of industry trends and the latest demands in the fields. That’s something I remember us discussing once before. Can you tell people what you feel are some of the more the most current industry trends and that you offer that at Western Governors University.
Richard Benbow 7:34
Our curriculum is constantly benchmarked against industry standards in terms of cost skills and competencies. Because we are a competency based university, we try to ensure that our students matriculate and acquire the most in demand skills and competencies associated with specific career fields that come walk that can lead through our four different colleges. Again, we were started with the idea that we wanted to provide pathways to opportunity for those students, those adult learners who weren’t traditionally well served, but also wanted to provide them pathways to resilient jobs. And a way to provide pathways to resilient jobs is looking at those most in demand occupations, or most demand, demanded career fields. And so we have the College of Business College of it, our School of Education and our Levitt School of Health. And throughout those programs, we have 60 degree, different 60 degree programs, both at the bachelor’s and master’s level. And during the course of developing that curriculum. We are in contact with our corporate partners, as well as industry to ensure that our courses again tie back into the latest and greatest skills and competencies associated with specific career fields. And in particularly, our curriculum is delivering on that demand.
Patrice Badami 9:02
Right. And I was gonna say, the other things that we discussed is when there’s an internship requirement, or if a student just wants to pursue an internship on their own to enrich their experiences. That’s something else that Western Governors University also offers. You’d have some relationships with different companies that will help to provide experiences for some of the students. Can you tell us about that a little bit?
Richard Benbow 9:28
Yeah, well, we have our Career and Alumni Services Office, students who graduated matriculate through WG you have lifetime access to the career services office office. In addition to some of the things that we’re doing in the West, we have established a software development apprenticeship program in the state of Nevada, the first of its kind in the state of Nevada, over partnered with a few software development companies, as well as the local community college and we give students who are accepted into that program. The opportunity to accelerate to their chosen career path and software development by allowing them to earn and learn. And so the way the program will work is students will graduate from the local community college. They will then have an apprenticeship program with one of our corporate software development partners in Southern Nevada, and in some tenuously entered into W GU, where they have the ability to learn about software development, but also apply what they’ve learned in the classroom or through their curriculum back at the apprenticeship and vice versa. And so the hope there is that students will be able to accelerate to complete their software development apprenticeship degree program and the college have it within the 18 to 24 month timeframe, and hopefully, at the end of that journey, have a full time job with the employee sponsor for that apprentice.
Patrice Badami 10:52
Right. That’s what’s really important about developing those relationships. What are the best ways students can seek financial aid grants and scholarships to pursue the degree of their dreams?
Richard Benbow 11:04
I think there are a number of ways that students can seek financial aid. I think number one, students should fill out the FAFSA that allows students to apply for federal student loans and grants like the Pell Grant. The second thing you can do is speak to the financial aid office, at your local or at your institution. WVU also has a financial aid office, but one of the things that I will say, from a WGU perspective, again, we recognize maybe some of the issues that our adult learners have. And we’re constantly in the mode of trying to remove some of those barriers so that students can pursue higher education. During the COVID, we established the W GU emergency fund to assist students who are considering leaving their educational dreams behind due to financial crisis. We’ve partnered with equity to provide more financial help. And through this partnerships, students were able to apply for and receive cash grant assistance from the WVU emergency fund to assist with basic needs. And again, that’s just something that is embedded in our DNA, where we look to actively remove those barriers that prevent students from pursuing their higher education journey.
Patrice Badami 12:19
Right. The other thing is just to clarify for the listeners, just in case there’s any kind of question the difference, just so they understand between grants and scholarships, just a clarification on that.
Richard Benbow 12:34
Scholarships are more merit based, whereas grants, typically you can apply to maybe a student’s financial situation or circumstance where scholarships are more, again, more academically merit based.
Patrice Badami 12:48
Right. Yeah, because some people might not know the difference. And they should know that there. There are programs, the grants are there for them to partake in, they just need to follow up and get make sure they get all the information on the state bases. I guess that’s how they have to apply. They need to go by their individual state, or can you explain that a little bit further?
Richard Benbow 13:10
Students do have the ability to qualify for some state aid if they attend a state institution, public institution within their state at WVU. We have that ability in some of our affiliate states as well. Some of our affiliate states that offer financial assistance, believe are W GU Washington, W GU, Missouri. W GU, Indiana, W GU, Ohio. Tech, Nevada has some state aid for those W GU students who want to pursue and career in teaching. And then W GU, Tennessee, I believe has some financial aid as well.
Patrice Badami 13:51
Right. Okay, great. So what I was going to say is for the listeners will have some notes that include the specifics that you just mentioned, so that they can have that information, including the different specific career programs, you have the different degree programs, you have the affiliate state information, a little more clarification, so they can understand about the financial aid. That would be I think, helpful. What other things do you think might be important for people to know concerning approaching online classes for the first time?
Richard Benbow 14:26
Um, that’s a great, great question. I think oftentimes with adult learners, there are two maybe three barriers that exist as they kind of make that decision to return back to school or pursue higher education. One is determining whether or not they have enough time, but the family obligations and possibly work. They need to assess whether or not they have enough time to dedicate to their educational journey to another barrier for adult learners is the financial commitment required to pursue higher education. A lot of times the resources just may not be there due to family dynamics or financial situations. And then the third barrier or considered thought consideration as students decide to pursue an online education is they don’t know where to start. And again, I think that’s what makes W GU so unique as a higher education institution is that our model addresses all those concerns. From a financial standpoint, we have a six month flat tuition schedule, flat rate tuition schedule, because we’re competency based students can progress as they master skills and competencies associated with specific course. But that tuition fee model, students are able to take as many classes as they can complete within that six month timeframe. And the price point won’t, won’t increase. So that’s, that addresses maybe the financial situation for those students who are again, motivated and determined. Again, we want to make the decision as easy as possible. And again, remove some of those barriers that, you know, creep into the decision making process. Just from a time standpoint, students can access the curriculum on their time, there is no set schedule, or predetermined due date schedule for students who attend to sit or sit for a class attend a lecture, the curriculum is there to access at the students leisure, I’ve had conversations with a number of students who have created the time when they didn’t think they had, there was a young lady that just entered in WG you want to say last spring, she had several years of work experience with a hospital in Palo Alto, and was caring for a young child, she found the time to access to curriculum during her lunch hour. And after she put her young child to bed. Through her model, and what she found accessible and flexible. I think she completed like six classes over a four month timeframe. Wow. And was very excited about the ability to can kind of control when she accessed a curriculum when she chose to study when she chose or when, you know, the decision to make when to take assessments. And then just the last factor. You know, where do you start? I think you start by filling out an application to WVU, it is to me the best kept secret out there as it relates to those who are seeking higher education to upskill rescale increase their value in the workforce, pursue a dream that they’ve always had, but due to, you know, life circumstances were unable to finish, or even attend. WG us online competency based model gives students who want to pursue higher education, the ability to do so. And we do so by number one, putting them at the first putting them first. You know, in our thought process and designing the curriculum or designing the DWG you platform, and we actively remove those barriers and assist them throughout. And our mentor model also helps with that. And then you mentioned it earlier, our students are assigned to program mentor from the moment they enroll, and WG you to the moment they enroll.
Patrice Badami 18:42
That’s incredibly helpful. I just want to jump in and say that when I was doing an online course, my daughter was one and a half. And it was hard because there was that pressure, like I had mentioned before that I needed to get a certain number of things done before 1159. Or you would get zero literally, and she would get sick things happen, you might get sick. I love the fact that there’s the flexibility. It’s a realistic, it’s a realistic model for families who have other things going on, but they want to still fulfill that dream. It’s a big deal. And the fact that you have a mentor. So if you get flustered, if something happens and you’re having difficulty with the technology piece because some people they might it might be a challenge because perhaps they were a teacher years ago now they’re coming back on they want to learn about technology. There’s support. So that’s really important too, for people to understand that it’s it’s an ongoing support system. And it’s doable. You can do this. It’s I think it’s terrific. That’s that’s why I wanted to speak to you and share what you have to say with families because you know what, my website is not just for students as far as children who are infants up until high school. It’s also for the parents and the caregiver. ers this website is to provide everybody with support. It could be a high school student who’s entering, they’re about to enter college for the first time, or it could be an older person who wants to make a career change. That’s why it’s very accessible. You know, Western Governors University is very accessible for everyone who wants to just better their lives. So that’s why I wanted to speak to you. And I’m so glad that you came, and you discuss with me and so everyone can hear, you know, what’s out there that there’s every day is a new journey. And there’s always a possibility to fulfill, and to learn, and you get on the same plane, you get credit for what you already know, that’s what competency based learning is, you basically, don’t, it’s not redundant, they’re not going to waste your time reteaching you what you already know, your skills that you already have, you move forward, instead of having to go backwards. And if you do need a little refresher, you have the opportunity to take a couple more courses to get more skills or to hone your skills. So that’s what I that’s what I see. And that’s what I’m that’s why I’m so happy to have had you as a guest today. What else do you think you wanted to inclosing provide the listeners with.
Richard Benbow 21:17
One point of clarification, just I don’t want to mislead folks on the learning experience. So with the prior learning experience, they don’t necessarily get credit right away. Coming in what they can do, however, if they are familiar with the material, and they feel that they can demonstrate mastery of the skills and competencies associated with that course, because they’ve worked in that particular field or performed a level skills and competencies do their work experience or even a prior learning experience? They can simply raise their hand and choose to take the assessment. That’s right. So I just wanted to want to clarify that Oh, yeah. No, I thank you. No, no, no worries, no worries. Right, right. In closing, I would say that, you know, as, as we look, you know, at the economy coming out of this pandemic, and we see a number of folks looking to enhance their value in the workforce or pivot from a career that may not have been rewarding. I think education is going to be the key for those individuals. And there is a need for a flexible, affordable platform to get skills, new skills, rescale upskill. In this knowledge based economy, it is going to be critical for individuals to become lifelong learners. And to me, as we transition out of this economy, and more to that knowledge based economy, those with the skills and competencies will have the most opportunities. And I cannot think of a better institution that meet students where they are, that gives them the ability to acquire those new skills and a flexible, affordable way, then W GU. And I’m just really excited and grateful to be part of this great institution, who’s been around for 25 years, currently serving over 130,000 students nationwide and just celebrating our 300,000. graduate in the next month or so. So couldn’t be more excited to be part of a institution that is very much mission, that line in delivering on its promise to provide pathways to opportunity for those who want to seek higher education.
Patrice Badami 23:47
Right. Yeah, I just want to clarify to once again, sorry about that. What I meant to say is, if you have previous skills, you can take an assessment, and you can you can move forward, if you feel that you’ve succeeded in, you know, retaining that information that leads into the next step. Not that you get credit the old school way where I didn’t mean transferring credits, per se, I meant that it will work for you. And it’ll help you to move forward and learn more if you’ve accomplished one area of expertise in whether it’s what the different once again, the different areas are the different areas that you have the degrees in once again for people could you give them that really quickly.
Richard Benbow 24:31
Our four colleges, our College of Business, College of AI, T Levitt School of Health, and our School of Education. We have 60 degree programs at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level. And for all those who are interested, I would suggest going to www.wg eu.edu where we list all of the programs and degree programs under each school on our website.
Patrice Badami 24:59
Right right it. Okay, well, once again, thank you so much to Richard Benbow, the Regional Vice Presidents of Western Governors University for being a guest on acorn to tree family podcast.
Richard Benbow 25:15
Thank you so much.
Patrice Badami 25:16
Thanks a lot.