Online university’s chancellor calls Lee’s Summit home

tporter@lsjournal.comApril 3, 2014 

  • 750,000

    Number of Missourians estimated to have some college education but no degree.

Angie Besendorfer is new to Lee’s Summit. Literally. As in barely two weeks in town new.

Besendorfer is chancellor of Western Governors University-Missouri, a statewide position that requires Besendorfer to travel the state to interact with key stakeholders and students enrolled in WGU-Missouri, an accredited online university focused on furthering education for the working adult.

The former assistant superintendent of Joplin schools chose Lee’s Summit as her new home base to be closer to her oldest daughter who is a freshman enrolled in the six-year medical program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. That and the proximity of Lee’s Summit to zip to anywhere in the state that she is needed.

“I’m an educator. That’s who I am through and through,” Besendorfer said during a recent trip to the Journal to expound on the WGU-Missouri education model. She started work there in February. “I knew I had to move to a bigger area; that was one of the requirements of the job, moving from Joplin, which was one of the hardest decisions to make, honestly.

“My daughter (Karlie, age 19) is in Kansas City and so…that was the draw to the Kansas City area. And then it became, where do I want my seventh grader (Maddie, age 13) to go to school and so I chose (Lee’s Summit). Lee’s Summit is great and it’s closer to the St. Louis side and the Jefferson City side, and so getting back to ballgames (of Maddie’s) and all that stuff will help in that location. But, primarily it was where do I want my daughter to go to school. So far, so good for moving a seventh grader mid-year.”

WGU-Missouri was created through a partnership between the state and Western Governors University, an accredited university with more than 44,000 students throughout the country. It was established through an executive order by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in February of last year.

A private, non-profit online university that sustains itself on tuition alone, WGU-Missouri provides new educational opportunities for residents of the state without ongoing state subsidy and offers more than 50 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in high-demand fields such as business, information technology, K-12 teacher education and health professions, including nursing.

Besendorfer said the mission of WGU-Missouri is to expand access to affordable higher education for students, namely working adults, through online, competency-based degree programs that address key workforce needs.

Most students, on average Besendorfer said, graduate within three years.

“I’ve spent my entire career in high-poverty areas really working to try to ensure that 12 years of education would make a difference for a kid,” she said. “That’s been my role. When I heard about WGU and what’s possible, I realized that by expanding the awareness of WGU in Missouri we could take a family and make it better in three years.”

Jennifer Burke of Lee’s Summit received a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies K-8 in less than three years. Now a math teacher at Southwest Early College Campus in Kansas City, Burke started her classes at WGU in 2011 while living with her husband who was stationed overseas in Germany as a member for the United States Army. She finished her degree in April of 2013.

“At first I was kind of nervous because I had never heard of a teacher program that was mainly online,” Burke, the mother of four teenagers, said. “I did a little bit of research and found out how highly accredited they were. I love their structure and I love the way that they are set up. I think every university that does anything online should do it the way WGU does it.”

Working adults such as Burke are the type of students targeted by WGU-Missouri, Besendorfer said.

“Typically we’re targeting the 750,000 Missourians who has some college and no degree,” she said. “This is an avenue that is affordable and high-quality. It’s an all-you-can-learn kind of approach.”

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