Robert Mendenhall

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Robert Winton Mendenhall is a pioneer of educational technology and entrepreneurship best known as the first president of Western Governors University (WGU).[1]

First President of Western Governors University[edit]

Dr. Mendenhall became president of Western Governors University in 1999, the same year its first students were enrolled. WGU is a private, non-profit, online university offering competency-based undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business, Teacher Education, Information Technology, and Health Professions, including Nursing. It was founded in 1997 by a group of 19 western governors with the mission to improve the quality and expand access to post-secondary educational opportunities.[2]

In late 2015, Mendenhall initiated a search for his replacement, and in March 2016, WGU's Board of Trustees announced it had selected Scott D. Pulsipher as the new president. Pulsipher joined WGU as president on April 11, 2016. As of January 2017, the university had more than 70,000 students in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., U.S. territories, and stationed on U.S. military bases overseas. In March 2016, the university awarded its 60,000th degree.

In addition to his seventeen years as president, Dr. Mendenhall also serves on the WGU Board of Trustees, which is composed of educators, industry leaders, and governors.[3]

Discussing the university, Mendenhall said, "WGU was specifically created as a new model for higher education, incorporating the use of technology to expand access and reduce costs, while creating competency-based degree programs to improve accountability for learning."[4]

Experience and education[edit]

Mendenhall has over 30 years of experience delivering technology-based education. Prior to joining WGU, he was general manager of IBM's K-12 education division. He also served as executive vice president for Jostens Learning Corporation.

From 1980 to 1992, he was a founder, president, and CEO (from 1987) of Wicat Systems, Inc., a publicly traded company which was a leader in providing computer-based curriculum, instructional management and testing to schools, and technology-based training to government and industry.[5][6]

Mendenhall has also served on the NGA/ASTD Commission on Technology & Adult Learning, on IBM’s Education Advisory Council, on the National Forum on 21st Century Skills Education Advisory Board, and on the Technology Working Group for the California Postsecondary Education Commission. Mendenhall is a former member of the Board of the Department of Business and Economic Development for the State of Utah. Mendenhall received his doctorate in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University.

The Future of Higher Education[edit]

Mendenhall served on the Commission on the Future of Higher Education at the request of U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. In 2006, the commission issued a report titled "A Test for Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education." The report was critical of many aspects of higher education in the U.S. and offered suggestions on how to improve the system. Commenting in the media, Mendenhall stated: "I don't think it's about blame. [Our] report was more negative than it needs to be about the academy, but not as alarming as it needs to be in shining a light on the challenges in American higher education."[7]

On December 5, 2011, Mendenhall was one of several university presidents, chancellors, and higher education representatives invited to the White House by President Obama to discuss the cost of college and improving education.[8][9]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2010, Mendenhall was honored with the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education for creating educational ideas that work and scaling them up to improve student achievement.[10] Utah Business Magazine named him 2010 CEO of the Year; the U.S. Distance Learning Association's (USDLA) gave him its Award for Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the Field of Distance Learning; and, in 2011, Ernst & Young granted Mendenhall the Utah regional award in its Entrepreneur of the Year program in the Technology and Education category.