Continuing Education, Domestic, Ethics, Minorities, equity, and access, Not-for-Profit, Private education, Required, Students, University & College - Written by on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 6:00 - 0 Comments

Overlooked Behemoth of Online Education?: The NYT on Western Governors University

Here’s the second installment of stories on online education in a recent issue of The New York Times. We are glad to see the Times treating the topic seriously with solid reports. This short piece by Tamar Lewin takes a glance at Western Governors University, which has been around for 15 years!!! Let’s face it, it isn’t Harvard or Stanford online. But it also seems to have some advantages over unaccredited, open source programs (you can obtain a real degree) and over for-profit colleges (some of which may be of more questionable quality and motivations?). Yet WGU is off the radar of Wall Street because it isn’t publicly traded. It’s the type of story that perhaps should be highlighted and investigated more for its success and weaknesses but is often overlooked because the for-profits get the lion’s share of the ink?
From the NYT August 25, 2011 – Weekly Prompts From a Mentor

Fifteen years ago, bemoaning the high cost of higher education, the governors of 19 Western states decided to start a nonprofit online institution to help meet their need for a trained work force. The result, Western Governors University, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, business, the health professions and information technology. Everything is online except for student teaching and some nursing requirements.

Most of its 25,000 students are over 25, and have previously earned some college credits.

WA: Our quick take is that Western Governors University seems to originate from the need for working adults who already have completed a good chunk of their degree. The fact that states helped create this school, seems to give it a solid basis in need rather than profits. We’d like to learn and report more about Western Governors and how focused they are on providing a quality education v. a degree (note: these are two very separate things). We welcome comments from readers who attended, worked or taught at this institution. The Times explains a bit more on how the school actually works:

Instead of being required to spend a certain number of hours to earn a certain sequence of credits, students at Western Governors must show “competency” through assignments and proctored exams….

Actually, Western Governors does not have “professors” in the usual sense: the online curriculum is not developed by the university, but chosen by outside experts, and students have “course mentors” with graduate degrees.

In addition, to counter the isolation of studying over the Internet, each student gets a mentor who calls every week. In forums where students rate online programs, most commenters had good things to say about the school; those who did not generally complained about useless mentors, or too much mentor turnover. (A few also complained that the school would not accept enough of their transfer credits.)

Mentors, who handled 80 students at a time, can see when each one has logged on and how much work he or she has completed.

Here’s a link to WGU: 

Texas governor and GOP Presidential contender Rick Perry announced, in August, that his state would also join WGU.
Here are some relevant passages on WGU from Wikipedia:

While the university receives grants from state and federal agencies as well as large corporations and foundations, it is self-sustaining on tuition and does not rely on state or federal funding for its operations. Corporations and foundations supporting WGU include AT&TDellBill & Melinda Gates FoundationLumina Foundation for EducationSun MicrosystemsHCAHPMicrosoft,QwestAmerican ExpressSimmons Media Group and Zions Bank.

The University accepts students only living in the United States and select geographic areas of Canada. (The exceptions are U.S. active-duty military personnel and their families stationed at overseas installations, and individuals living in Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands.) There is no minimum high school grade point average for admission, and no minimum score on the SAT or ACT. All applicants must pass an admissions examination administered by the university.

The administration is based in Salt Lake CityUtah and Dr. Robert Mendenhall serves as university president. The University also operates an office in Phoenix, Arizona and Indianapolis, Indiana. All academic operations are virtual. WGU has over 1,200 staff and faculty members located throughout the U.S; many work from virtual offices. In 2010, WGU Indiana , a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Governors University opened to expand access to higher education for Indiana residents [1].

WGU FB page via Creative Commons

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