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. Founded by the governors of 19 U.S. states in 1997, WGU has more than 43,000 students in the United States. The university uses a competency-based learning model, with students working online in coordination with faculty mentors and taking proctored tests online via webcam and other online proctoring technologies. Robert Mendenhall is the current university president.
Western Governors University was officially founded in 1997 in the United States by the 19 state governors in the Western Governors Association. 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 towards 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 became the first online school to receive NCATE accreditation. In 2010, the first state-established school, 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 Jay Nixon of Missouri, in his annual State of the State address, announced the founding of WGU Missouri, creating the fifth state-affiliated campus.
Western Governors University comprises four colleges, each offering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs: Business, Information Technology, Teacher Education, and Health Professions (including 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.
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. For example, the university states that the business management bachelor's degree requires "132 Competency Units (credit equivalents)" and can be completed in four to five years for students with little or no prior college, but that "successful students who commit 20 hours or more per week to their studies are often able to complete their programs more quickly." WGU is the first accredited school to use the competency based approach but it is a growing trend in 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 educators and 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 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. Courses can only be added one at a time during the term, and only after the student's current courses have been completed successfully. Students may take certain exams without study for some courses if they show competency via pre-assessments. Other courses require weeks-long participation in online courses and in written submissions that are graded by independent contract evaluators.
Courses are generally assessed using both performance-based and objective assessments. The performance-based component normally is done by submitting marked assignments. The objective assessment component is a proctored exam. Exams are taken at proctored exam sites, which are located across the country or via ProctorU online monitoring, using a webcam. There are no open-book exams. Students must prepare themselves to take the exams after completing their course of study materials; they must also pass a pre-assessment exam that is available for most subjects before attempting the final exam.
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 associates degree from an accredited college or a specific amount of related, verifiable work experience in the field they wish to study in. The school does not require SAT or ACT scores for admission. All programs require the student to possess a high school diploma or GED, pass the schools Collegiate Readiness Assessment, and 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 the university is governed by a board of trustees that consists of state governors, educators, and business and industry leaders. In addition the university National Advisory Board consists of leaders from private corporations & 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.
WGU faculty consists of Student Mentors, Course Mentors and Program faculty. 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.
State Affiliated Schools
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.
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 8th 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 E. 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 states 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 other 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, 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, Western Governors was the first and only university to date to be reviewed and awarded accreditation by four differing regional accreditors.
In May 2009, Western Governors University's Nursing Education Programs were accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The initial accreditation, which has 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 2011, WGU's B.S. degree in Health Informatics 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 2013, tuition for WGU is $2,890 per 6 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.
- In 2013, Western Governors University was named as one of 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. In prior years, WGU was ranked #2 (2012), #6 (2011) and #16 (2010).
- In 2012, Western Governors University's Bachelor's degree in Management ranked #4 in Affordability by GetEducated.com.
- In 2010, President Mendenhall received the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.
- In 2010, the university’s president, Robert Mendenhall, was named 2010 CEO of the Year by Utah Business Magazine.
- In 2008, 2011, and 2012, WGU won the 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning from the U.S. Distance Learning Association (USDLA).
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