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WGU Missouri to Recognize More than 450 Graduates at Spring 2017 Commencement

News Brief - 6/15/17

New York Times best-selling author and TED Talk Speaker Bill Donius to deliver commencement keynote to graduating class

ST. LOUIS — WGU Missouri will celebrate its fourth commencement on Saturday, June 24, recognizing 453 graduates and reinforcing the increasingly significant role the growing, nonprofit, fully online university is playing in adding more graduates to Missouri’s workforce. The ceremony will be held at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis, beginning at 9:45 a.m. New York Times best-selling author Bill Donius will deliver the commencement address to the 140 graduates set to participate in the ceremony and the roughly 800 family members and friends who will travel from throughout the state to show their support.

WGU Missouri was established in 2013, through a partnership with former Gov. Jay Nixon, in an effort to expand access to affordable higher education for working adults across the state. Including this year’s graduating class — which is 50 percent larger than last year’s — WGU Missouri now has over 1,500 alumni who have earned their degrees from the competency-based university. With a current enrolled student body of 2,495 — a 20 percent increase from the same time last year — WGU Missouri is proving that its model works and appeals to those working adults who need an affordable, flexible option to earn a degree and enhance their lives.

Bill Donius, the author of “Thought Revolution: How to Unlock Your Inner Genius” and 2014 TED Talk speaker will work to inspire this year’s graduates as they embark on advancing their careers. Donius has spent three decades working in corporate America in the healthcare, television production and banking industries. He also speaks at business conferences across the nation, challenging those he meets to break through complacent conventional thinking and uncover a new way to view problem solving and innovation.

“This commencement will be a proud milestone for these students, their families and for WGU Missouri — which continues to play an important role in making Missouri a national leader in college affordability, quality and innovation,” Donius said. “The hard work of these students will not go unnoticed. Because of WGU Missouri, these students are prepared for long-term success and will help diversify our workforce.”

Donius will be joined by four graduating students who will share stories of their educational journeys with the audience. Student speakers include: Rebecca Balfanz, Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, from Elsberry, Mo.; Lana Borden, Master of Science in Nursing Education, from Lee’s Summit, Mo.; Tara Lavelle, Bachelor of Science in Business Human Resource Management, from Blue Springs, Mo.; and Joe Mobley, MBA in Healthcare Management, from Kansas City.

“We are proud of the accomplishments our students have made during their time at WGU Missouri and are excited to honor these individuals as they continue to advance their careers and build better lives for their families,” said Dr. Angie Besendorfer, Chancellor of WGU Missouri. “Earning their degrees has not been an easy feat for these graduates, many of whom were working full-time and raising families while going back to school. Their determination to work hard toward accomplishing their dreams is an inspiration to others who are thinking about going back to college.”

WGU Missouri Commencement by the Numbers:

  • WGU Missouri graduates represent 160 cities across the state and more than 70 counties.
  • 268 undergraduate and 185 graduate degrees are being conferred.
  • The average age of the graduates is 39; the youngest grad is 20; the oldest is 69.
  • 90 percent of the graduates are over the age of 27.
  • 43 percent of the graduates represent the first generation in their family to complete college.
  • Degree distribution by college:
    • College of Business – 141
    • College of Health Professions and Nursing – 171
    • College of Information Technology – 51
    • Teachers College – 90

WGU Missouri’s online, competency-based model allows students to move quickly through material they already know so they can focus on what they still need to learn. As a result, many students are able to accelerate their studies, finishing faster and saving money. Tuition is charged at a flat rate of $2,890 per six-month term for most programs, regardless of the number of courses completed. On average, students are able to complete a bachelor’s degree in less than three years, many while holding a full-time job and raising a family. The online model also enables students to enroll and study from anywhere across the state, and complete coursework at a schedule that works best for them. For more information, visit

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