Western Governors University
|Western Governors University|
|Motto||"Online. Accelerated. Affordable. Accredited."|
|Location||Salt Lake City, Utah,
Western Governors University (WGU) is a private, nonprofit, online American university based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The university was founded by 19 U.S. governors in 1997 after the idea was formulated at a 1995 meeting of the Western Governors Association. The university uses a competency-based learning model, with students working online in coordination with faculty mentors, with whom frequent phone communication is kept, and taking proctored tests online via webcam and other online proctoring technologies. Robert Mendenhall is the current university president. The university has the distinction of having been the first and only university to receive regional accreditation simultaneously from four regional accrediting commissions. (Today its accreditation is through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.) It was also the first online university to have its teacher-preparation programs accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the specialized accrediting body for teacher preparation.
Western Governors University was officially founded in 1997 in the United States by the governors of 19 U.S. states. It was first proposed by then-governor of Utah Mike Leavitt at the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association in June 1995. It was formally proposed the following November and officially founded in June 1996, with each signing state governor committing $100,000 toward the launch of the new competency-based university. While the seed money was provided from government sources, the school was to be established as a self-supporting private, nonprofit institution. In January 1997, 13 governors were on hand to sign the articles of incorporation formally beginning the new university.
In 2001, the United States Department of Education awarded $10 million to found the Teachers College, and the first programs were offered in Information Technology. In 2003, the university became the first school to be accredited in four different regions by the Interregional Accrediting Committee. In 2006, the fourth college, the College of Health Professions, was founded, and the school's Teachers College became the first online teacher-preparation program to receive NCATE accreditation. In 2010, the first state-established offshoot WGU Indiana, was founded by Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, and the school reached 20,000 students for the first time. In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided $4.5 million for WGU Indiana and the creation of WGU Texas and WGU Washington.
On January 8, 2013, Bill Haslam, governor of Tennessee, announced the creation of the state-affiliated WGU Tennessee. On January 28, 2013, Jay Nixon of Missouri, in his annual State of the State address, announced the founding of WGU Missouri, creating the fifth state-affiliated campus. The state-affiliated offshoots of WGU share the same academic model, faculty, services, accreditation, and curricula as WGU and were established to give official state endorsement and increased name recognition to WGU in those states; however, WGU has students and graduates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, parts of Canada, and on U.S. military bases worldwide.
Western Governors University comprises four colleges, each offering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs: the College of Business, the College of Information Technology, the Teachers College, and the College of Health Professions, which includes degrees in nursing. As of January 2013, 55 bachelor's, master's, and post-baccalaureate degree programs, as well as teacher endorsement preparation programs, were offered among the four colleges.
Terms consist of six-month "rolling" semesters, which start for individual students on the first of every month. Classes are assigned unique terms lasting six weeks but students may proceed at their own pace. Many classes have "cohorts," or students working in the same general time frame, to facilitate online meetings and discussions, though students in any given cohort progress to the next course as soon as they are able to provide their knowledge. Course mentors provide both group and individual instruction as well as moderating online discussions.
In 2014, US News, in its academic rankings of teacher education programs in conjunction with the National Council on Teacher Quality, ranked Western Governors University #1 in the nation for secondary teacher education among both online and traditional universities. In 2013, Western Governors University was named one of the 50 most innovative companies in Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies Issue, ranking #28 among leading businesses including Apple, Amazon, Google, and Target along with such rising newcomers as Square, Fab, and Tumblr. In 2013, Western Governors University was ranked #1 in GuidetoOnlineSchools.com's Top Online Colleges. WGU has also received the 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning from the United States Distance Learning Association several years running, among many other recognitions.
WGU has competency-based programs for completing degree and certificate requirements. Competency-based programs allow students to demonstrate through assessments that they have acquired the set of competencies (levels of knowledge, skill, or ability) required for a particular degree or certificate. WGU is the first accredited school to use the competency-based approach, driving a growing trend toward competency-based higher education. United States Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated, "While such programs [like Western Governors University] are now the exception, I want them to be the norm." 
All aspects (with the exception of demonstration teaching for teacher licensure programs and clinical experiences in the pre-licensure program for nurses) are completed entirely online. The university states  that "learning resources come in a variety of forms, including textbooks, web-based tutorials, simulations, [and] online classes." The university doesn't develop its own courses, but instead licenses course modules from commercial providers such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Each student at WGU is assigned a working mentor (WGU faculty member) who advises and assists the student from enrollment through degree completion. Each mentor/student team creates a personal academic action plan (AAP) that helps the student track his or her progress through each 6-month term.
Students at WGU have some control over how much coursework they complete per term, but are required to complete a minimum each term to maintain full-time status. There are no written limitations regarding course loads, but students must have the approval of their mentor to add courses during a term. Additional courses can only be added one at a time during the term, and only after the student's current courses have been completed successfully. Course competency is evaluated by either an objective assessment (a proctored exam, taken remotely and observed via webcam by online proctoring experts) or performance exams (papers, projects, presentations, etc.), or a combination of both. For courses with objective assessments, students take pre-assessments at the start of each course to identify areas of strong current knowledge and areas where additional study and tutoring are required. Students then study independently using WGU's online learning resources, with the as-needed support of faculty course mentors (roughly the equivalent of professors at a traditional university), to achieve competency on the subject matter they show weakness on in the pre-assessment. For both objective and performance assessments, students complete their assessments once they are ready—as determined by passing a pre-assessment, adequate study time, and/or discussion with the student's faculty mentor. Depending on previous knowledge and experience, students may pass a course shortly after enrolling in it, or after weeks or months of study.
Performance-based assessments are normally completed by submitting written assignments through an online service. These submissions are checked for integrity by comparing them for unique content across thousands of other documents submitted at WGU and other universities, as well as documents available online. The objective assessment component is a proctored exam. Exams are usually taken via ProctorU online monitoring, using a university-provided webcam. There are no open-book exams.
Western Governors University has a multi-step admissions process. Admissions requirements differ depending on which academic program the student chooses to attend. Many programs require either an associate's degree from an accredited college or a specific amount of related, verifiable work experience in the field in which a student wishes to study. The school does not require SAT or ACT scores for admission. Undergraduate programs require the student to possess a high school diploma or GED and pass the school's Collegiate Readiness Assessment, and admission into all programs requires an interview with a WGU Enrollment Counselor to determine if the competency-based approach is the best fit for the individual student.
As a private, nonprofit university, WGU is governed by a board of trustees that consists of state governors, educators, and business and industry leaders. In addition, the university's National Advisory Board consists of leaders from private corporations and foundations which support the university. Current members include Google, Microsoft, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and AT&T among many others. Each of the five state established schools also have a local Chancellor and Advisory board from within the state. Course competencies are defined with input from third-party councils made up of business, academic, and industry leaders, who guide the university in determining what a successful graduate in any given degree program must know to be a valuable employee.
WGU's disaggregated faculty consists of student mentors (faculty members who advise and guide a student throughout his or her entire degree program), course mentors (subject-matter experts who advise, tutor, and guide students through specific courses), program faculty (who oversee course content), and evaluators/graders. The university has 1,100 full-time faculty members and 200 part-timers. 85% of student mentors and over 98% of course mentors have earned a graduate degree. Course mentors and program faculty typically require a Ph.D., Ed.D., or another form of earned doctorate or professional degree.
In addition to being founded by governors, several states have created state-established and affiliated schools. Though state funding in some instances was used for the creation, each school is self-supporting through tuition and donations and overseen by the Western Governors University board along with a local state chancellor and advisory board. The state-affiliated WGU offshoots offer the same programs and curricula as the national WGU student body receives, and accreditation is through WGU. The state affiliates simply allow the states to give WGU an added level of endorsement, increasing the university's name-recognition in the state and enabling those states to leverage WGU's ability to increase higher-education capacity to a greater degree. Despite the existence of state affiliates, WGU enrolls students living in all U.S. states and on U.S. military bases worldwide.
WGU Indiana was the first state established school created June 11, 2010 by Executive Order 10-04, signed by then governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels. At its founding Daniels stated "Today we mark the beginning of, in a real sense, Indiana's eighth state university". As a state-affiliated school, WGU Indiana is an approved for Indiana state grants and scholarships offered through the State Student Assistance Commission of Indiana and students graduating from the states community college system can take advantage of the articulation agreement which allows them to transfer all credits, waive the application fee, and receive a 5% discount on tuition. The school is based in Indianapolis and the school's chancellor is Allison Barber.
Governor Jay Nixon first announced the creation of WGU Missouri in his annual State of the State address in January 2013. He signed Executive Order 13-04 officially starting the new school. He stated "(Missouri) has great opportunities for higher education, and I'm proud to say we've just added one more. WGU Missouri." It was created using funds from Federal Community Development Block Grants and a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The school has an advisory board and its own local chancellor, Dr. Angela (Angie) Besendorfer. Students are eligible for state grants. It is based in Jefferson City.
Governor Bill Haslam announced the creation of WGU Tennessee in January 2013. It was part of his "Drive for 55" plan to bring the college graduation rate of the state up to 55%. The school was started with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $5 million in one time state funds. Students are eligible for state financial aid. The school, based in Franklin, has a local chancellor, Dr. Kimberly K. Estep, and advisory board.
Governor Rick Perry of Texas founded WGU Texas in August 2011 with Executive Order RP 75. Perry's predecessor George W. Bush was one of the founding governors of the university. The creation was supported by Rep. Dan Branch, Republican leader of the House Education Committee and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Democratic Chair of the Senate Education Committee. It called for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Education Agency and Texas Workforce Commission to help with its founding. The state school will have an Advisory Board appointed by the governor and be based in Austin. Ray Martinez is the Texas Chancellor.
WGU Washington was created February 26, 2011 with the passing of House Bill 1822. It was signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire. Washington state's previous governor Mike Lowry was one of the founding governors of the university. A bill passed in April 2013 will make students eligible for state grants like in state schools. A transfer agreement allows students who graduate from state community colleges to receive a 5% discount. The Washington Chancellor is former Bellevue College President Jean Floten.
Western Governors University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Regional accreditation is considered the gold standard of accreditation, and NWCCU is the regional accreditor of other schools like the University of Washington, the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Gonzaga University, and the University of Oregon, among others. Because of its unique founding by 19 governors whose states encompass several regions, WGU was the first and only university to date to be reviewed and awarded accreditation by four differing regional accreditors.
In May 2009, WGU's nursing education programs were accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The initial accreditation, which had a five-year term, was awarded following a process that included a site visit as well as a review of WGU's nursing curriculum. In May 2014, CCNE extended WGU's accreditation through June 2024. "Western Governors University Earns CCNE Accreditation for Another 10 Years".
In 2011, WGU's B.S. in Health Informatics degree received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). The accreditation is granted after extensive reviews based on industry-developed standards.
In 2014, tuition for WGU is $2,890 per six-month term for most undergraduate programs and has not increased since the fall of 2008. Tuition is charged at a flat rate per six-month term, regardless of the number of courses taken or credits completed.
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