Western Governors University Indiana Chancellor Alison Bell says the institution was “built for the pandemic,” even though the online school was founded more than two decades before the onset of COVID-19. Now in its 25th year, WGU was launched to help older adults earn a degree to advance their careers through online courses. Bell, who was appointed chancellor in March 2019, says remote work has changed a lot of things in society, including careers.
“They were forced to slow down and do things differently. And in that kind of forced state, we reflected and decided, what mattered and what we were willing to do,” Bell said in an interview with Inside INdiana Business.
As companies laid off workers, and most businesses required remote work, Bell says it gave would-be students an opportunity to further their education, whether it was a degree, license or credentialing in a specialized field.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, we had this massive rush of people applying to and people that completed their degree even more quickly than they typically can at WGU, because they had more time and freedom,” said Bell. “They were able to skill up or reskill and change positions.”
With more people working from home during the pandemic, and continuing to do so, that change in work environments has also created new career opportunities. Many employers across industries are still dealing with an urgent need to fill jobs, particularly those in Information Technology.
According to WGU, approximately 36 million Americans will have work-from-home or flex jobs by 2025 – an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. Bell says the number illustrates the need for more IT professionals to support this increased reliance on technology and the new way of working.
“The other thing that we heard a lot about in the last year, and we’ll just hear more of, is the need for increased cybersecurity, you know. Cyberattacks have increased because more people are working from home. There is a lot more critical information being shared over the internet,” said Bell. “There’s an increased need for data experts and data engineers as well. And those tech jobs are expected to continue to grow at an increasing rate for the next decade.”
Career changes are also being fueled by the workforce phenomenon known as the Great Resignation. In 2021, millions of Americans left their jobs, looking for something better or different. WGU says it is wreaking havoc in numerous industries.
“As a result, we have shortages in major sectors of our workforce where there’s deep and dire need for people in the service industry, in the in the area of IT workforce or healthcare and teacher shortages,” said Bell.
Bell, who also has a background in career services, says regardless of age, students who are thinking about completing a degree need to deeply research job opportunities as they may not fully understand what is available in any given field.
Bell says there appears to be a changing attitude about online degrees.