Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
Richard Benbow is the Regional Vice President (West) of Western Governors University, 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 which drive value for employers and students.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
I am passionate about creating innovation in higher education. Traditional models of higher learning are limiting in our post-COVID environment, particularly when it comes to ensuring equitable access for underserved communities, including people from communities of
color, low-income families, those from rural locations, and the families in which previous generations did not have the opportunity or economic means to pursue higher education. I want to drive new ideas forward in removing barriers to success with high quality remote learning and tuition rates that families can afford despite their financial circumstances. Making that connection for people–who can pursue their dream of a higher education and ultimately better life–both keeps me up at night and gets me out of bed every morning.
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
I have always been an advocate for the underserved. I believe in the power of education to open pathways to opportunity, and have always turned to technology to make the difficult manageable, efficient, and fun. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work on these passions individually but never simultaneously. WGU allows me the opportunity to paint and express my passions on one canvass where boundaries can be considered as opportunities so long as they are supported by data. It is my purpose. My immediate family and family of mentors where the first to know. Every day since then, has been an absolute gift.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
For decades, leaders in higher education have done things the same way in that they ascribed to the traditional in-classroom cohort teaching model. When COVID happened, many universities were wholly unprepared to teach differently with virtual platforms. Students had a huge adjustment and suddenly had to learn differently, and many students were unable to engage in their curriculum online. Enrollment across the nation at universities took a big hit. Thankfully WGU has been a pioneer in the online higher education space since 1997 with our unique competency-based learning system, so for us, it was business as usual. Over the years, we’ve developed over 60-degree programs with the most comprehensive teaching tools to be able to see our students succeed learning remotely. Now, there’s no longer a stigma attached to learning online as there was prior to the pandemic. That’s a big challenge we’ve overcome as an industry.
If you had to pick the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could take your career (or business) to the next level…who would those 3 people be?
Madam CJ Walker – exemplified the notion that great business leaders identify an unserved market and serve it well.
Steve Jobs – I admire his vision to make technology accessible and his ability to use technology to simplify complex operations into intuitive actions.
Geoffrey Canada – I admire his relentless pursuit of answers to educational problems that plagued underserved students in Harlem, N.Y., innovation, and his willingness to galvanize the community and business organizations to work towards a common goal for the greater good.