By Staff Writer - July 17, 2023

The traditional high-school-to-college pipeline is not always in the cards for California residents who want to pursue higher education. Students who decide to attend college later on in life, or on a part-time basis, can often forgo living in a dorm and going into debt for their degree.

UC Santa Barbara’s Professional and Continuing Education program (PaCE) and Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit online college, have partnered to provide alternative certificate-to-degree pathways for the “non-traditional” students across the Central Coast.

PaCE, formerly known as UC Santa Barbara Extension, offers online and in-person professional courses and certificate programs for students who want to advance their career. It’s the first continuing-education arm of a UC school to partner with WGU, which will bridge the gap for UCSB students who want to pursue their degrees online (which the UC system does not offer).

Through the partnership, PaCE certificate holders can seamlessly transfer credits to WGU’s accredited bachelor’s degree programs in either accounting or human resources management. Both institutions will collaborate to support the articulation and transfer process for students while minimizing credit loss.

The pathway caters to the needs of busy individuals juggling work and home commitments, such as the 5.6 million Californians who have some college experience but no degree. In Santa Barbara County, about 30 percent of residents fit that bill.

“Partnering with WGU will give PaCE students the roadmap to a reputable and cost-effective degree,” said Sheetal Gavankar, associate dean for PaCE.

Gavankar heralded the partnership as providing accessible education with convenient class options, practical courses, and competency-based degrees that align with the tenets of professional education and workforce training.

Rick Benbow, WGU’s regional vice president, said the partnership supports its mission to remove barriers to higher education for underserved students and working learners.

“I used to work at UCLA, but I live in Long Beach, and, time-wise, it’s a two-hour commute both ways,” Benbow said. “I had a lot of time to ponder questions on the 405 freeway.”

He’d think about how it would feel to be a part-time student who had to lose a couple of hours in traffic every day. Physically going to class before or after work would probably feel exhausting and unsustainable, especially if he had to take care of a family.

“This collaboration changes the equation. It makes it possible to consider going back to school, even though I have a two-hour commute,” he said. “I have the flexibility to minimize the impact the pursuit of education has on my day-to-day responsibilities.”

At WGU, students pay a flat rate of around $4,000 per six-month term. All learning happens at the student’s pace, on their time, but it typically takes less than three years to complete a program.

For example, if a student can finish their accounting degree program in two years, they pay $15,820 to WGU, in addition to $3,700 for a certificate from PaCE. Before financial aid, that’s a little less than $20,000 for an accounting degree. Additionally, the partnership allows PaCE certificate earners to apply for specially designated, need-based scholarships valued at $2,500 from WGU.

In comparison, a traditional in-state undergraduate student pays around $15,000 per year to attend UC Santa Barbara.

“By leveraging the strengths of both institutions, we can create affordable and flexible pathways that lead to a brighter future for all learners, regardless of their background or circumstances,” Benbow said.

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