Western Governors University

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Not to be confused with Governors State University.
Western Governors University
Western Governors University logo(vector).svg
Motto "A New Kind of U."
Type Private, Non-profit
Established 1997
President Scott D. Pulsipher
Academic staff
Students 77,018 (November 30, 2016)[1]
Location Salt Lake City, Utah,
United States
Mascot Sage the Night Owl
Website wgu.edu

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.[2] The university uses a competency-based learning model, with students working online. Scott D. Pulsipher is the current university president, having joined WGU on April 11, 2016; WGU's first president, Robert Mendenhall, is president emeritus and remains a member of WGU's Board of Trustees. WGU's accreditation is through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.


Western Governors University Administration Building in Salt Lake City, Utah

WGU was officially founded in 1997 in the United States by the governors of 19 U.S. states.[3] 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 in June 1996 each signing state governor committed $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.[4]

On January 8, 2013, Bill Haslam, governor of Tennessee, announced the creation of the state-affiliated WGU Tennessee.[5] On January 28, 2013, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri, in his annual State of the State address, announced the founding of WGU Missouri, creating the fifth state-affiliated campus.[6] And on June 16, 2015, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada launched WGU Nevada, the sixth state-based WGU. The state-affiliated offshoots of WGU share the same academic model, faculty, services, accreditation, tuition, 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.

As of June 2016, the university had grown to more than 70,000 currently enrolled students[7] and more than 60,000 graduates.[8]


WGU 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 October 2014, 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 prove their knowledge. Course mentors provide both group and individual instruction as well as moderating online discussions.


In 2015, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) rated WGU's secondary teaching program its #1 best value in teacher education[9] and the National League for Nursing named WGU's College of Health Professions a Center of Excellence.[10] In 2014, US News, in its academic rankings of teacher education programs in conjunction with NCTQ, ranked WGU #1 in the nation for secondary teacher education among both online and traditional universities.[11][12] In 2013, WGU was named one of the 50 most innovative companies in Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies Issue, ranking #28.[13] In recent years, WGU has been the nation's top producer, in terms of numbers of licensure graduates, of science and math teachers.[14] WGU has also received the 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning from the United States Distance Learning Association on multiple occasions.[15]


Western Governors University Commencement Ceremony

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. Former United States Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated, "While such programs [like WGU] are now the exception, I want them to be the norm." [16]

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 [17] 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.[18]

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 online monitoring through administered by an online proctoring company such as ProctorU or Examity, using a university-provided webcam. There are no open-book exams.[19][20]


WGU 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 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.[21]

Graduation rate[edit]

The graduation rate at WGU is approximately 40%. That number differs from the rate of 16.7% reported by the Department of Education because the federally reported rate only counts first-time, full-time college students—a demographic that represents less than 5% of WGU students, the vast majority of whom have previous college experience and are therefore not counted among first-time students.[22]

University governance[edit]

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.[23] 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 evaluation faculty (who evaluate/grade assignments). The university has more than 2,000 faculty members, most of whom work full-time (the exception being part-time assessment evaluators).[24]

State-affiliated schools[edit]

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 WGU 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.

Flag in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah celebrating WGU's 15th anniversary

WGU Indiana[edit]

WGU Indiana is WGU's first state-established school, created on June 11, 2010 by executive order of then-governor Mitch Daniels. At its founding, Daniels stated "Today we mark the beginning of, in a real sense, Indiana's eighth state university".[25] As a state-affiliated school, WGU Indiana is approved for Indiana state grants and scholarships offered through the State Student Assistance Commission of Indiana (SSACI). Students graduating from Ivy Tech, the state's community college system, can take advantage of an 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. Dr. Allison Barber is the school's chancellor.[26]

WGU Washington[edit]

WGU Washington was created February 26, 2011 with the passing of House Bill 1822.[27] It was signed into law by Governor Christine 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.[28] 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.[29]

WGU Texas[edit]

Governor Rick Perry of Texas founded WGU Texas in August 2011 with Executive Order RP 75.[30] 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.[31] The state school will have an Advisory Board appointed by the governor and be based in Austin. Veronica Vargas Stidvent is the Texas Chancellor.[32]

WGU Missouri[edit]

Governor Jay Nixon first announced the creation of WGU Missouri in his annual State of the State address in January 2013.[33] He signed Executive Order 13-04 officially starting the new school.[34] He stated "(Missouri) has great opportunities for higher education, and I'm proud to say we've just added one more. WGU Missouri."[35] It was created using funds from Federal Community Development Block Grants and a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.[36] 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.[37]

WGU Tennessee[edit]

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.[38][39]

WGU Nevada[edit]

Governor Brian Sandoval created WGU Nevada by proclamation and a memorandum of understanding with WGU, launching the sixth state-based WGU university on June 16, 2015. It was created with a $2 million grant from United Student Aid Funds and required no startup funding from the state. At the time of the launch, WGU had more than 900 students and more than 850 alumni in Nevada.[40] Dr. Spencer Stewart was named chancellor of WGU Nevada.


WGU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.[41] Regional accreditation is by the NWCCU, the regional accreditor of other schools such as 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.[42]

In 2006, the WGU Teachers College became the first exclusively online school to receive accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).[43]

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.[44] 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.[45]


In 2016, tuition for WGU is $2,890 per six-month term for most undergraduate programs and has not increased since the fall of 2008.[46] Tuition is charged at a flat rate per six-month term, regardless of the number of courses taken or credits completed.

Notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "WGU Students". WGU. Retrieved 2 December 2016. 
  2. ^ "Online University - Online College - Western Governors University Online". wgu.edu. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  3. ^ "The WGU Story". WGU.edu. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  4. ^ "WGU Timeline - Western Governors University". wgu.edu. 23 August 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  5. ^ "Governor's Office 404 Page - TN.Gov". tn.gov. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  6. ^ "Gov. Nixon's State of the State Address - WGU Missouri". wgu.edu. 12 February 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  7. ^ "WGU Students". WGU. Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  8. ^ "Milestone alert! Today, we awarded our 60,000th degree! 60,000 goals achieved, dreams realized, and lives changed! That's a long way to come from our first graduate in December 2000. Congratulations to our 60,000-plus alumni—and all the countless future grads!". WGU. Retrieved 18 April 2016. 
  9. ^ "National Council on Teacher Quality Names WGU's Teachers College a 'Best Value'". Retrieved 19 Oct 2015. 
  10. ^ "WGU Named Center of Excellence by the National League for Nursing". Retrieved 19 Oct 2015. 
  11. ^ "2014 Teacher Prep Rankings". Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  12. ^ "The top-ranked teacher education program doesn't have classes". Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  13. ^ "Most Innovative Companies 2013". Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  14. ^ "WGU Leads the U.S. in STEM Teaching Grads". Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  15. ^ "Accredited Online University". Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Lewin, Tamar, "Official Calls for Urgency on College Costs", The New York Times, November 29, 2011
  17. ^ "Student Experience at Western Governors University Online". Wgu.edu. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  18. ^ Kolowich, Steve. "Model of the Moment". Inside Higher Ed. 
  19. ^ "Online University - WGU Difference - Western Governors University Online". wgu.edu. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  20. ^ "Competency Based Education - WGU". wgu.edu. 9 January 2009. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  21. ^ "College Admission Requirements - Online University Admission - Western Governors University Online". wgu.edu. 12 November 2008. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  22. ^ "WGU Annual Report". Retrieved 19 Oct 2015. 
  23. ^ "Founded by Governors - Online Degrees Supported by Education and Business". wgu.edu. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  24. ^ "About Western Governors University - WGU Faculty". wgu.edu. 4 March 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  25. ^ "News Release: Gov. Daniels Announces New University, 6/11/10". wgu.edu. 11 June 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  26. ^ "Indiana Online Degree - Indiana Online University - WGU Indiana". wgu.edu. 5 November 2008. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  27. ^ "House Bill 1822". wgu.edu. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  28. ^ Graham, Claire. "Washington Online University Aims for State Financial Aid". kndo.com. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  29. ^ "Western Governors University makes good call with Floten". seattletimes.com. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  30. ^ Texas getting branch of online university
  31. ^ Tribune, The Texas (3 August 2011). "Perry Announces Creation of Online Texas University". texastribune.org. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  32. ^ "News Release: Veronica Vargas Stidvent to Join WGU Texas as Chancellor, 6/11/14 - Western Governors University". wgu.edu. 11 June 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  33. ^ "Gov. Nixon's State of the State Address - WGU Missouri". wgu.edu. 12 February 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  34. ^ Kaiser, Emily (21 November 2013). "Executive Order 13-04". mo.gov. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  35. ^ Nixon touts nonprofit online university in new ad
  36. ^ Nonprofit online university expands to Missouri
  37. ^ "WGU Missouri - Online, Accelerated, Affordable, Accredited". wgu.edu. 9 March 2015. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  38. ^ "Haslam pushes state participation in completion-based online university". nashvillecitypaper.com. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  39. ^ "Kimberly K. Estep: WGU Tennessee aims to help working adults". October 16, 2013. Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  40. ^ Snyder, Riley (June 16, 2015). "Sandoval announces partnership with nonprofit online college". Associated Press. 
  41. ^ Directory of Institutions, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, accessed April 10, 2011
  42. ^ Western Governors University Accreditation Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  43. ^ Western Governors University Receives NCATE Accreditation, press release, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, October 31, 2006. Retrieved December 7, 2012.
  44. ^ "CCNE Accreditation Listings for Utah". 
  45. ^ All Healthcare Degrees - Your Guide to Allied Health Career Education, Training, and Career Information. "Healthcare Informatics Schools, Online Health Informatics Degrees and Certificates". Allhealthcaredegrees.com. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  46. ^ "Online University News | No Tuition Increase in 2010 at WGU". Wgu.edu. 2010-12-26. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 

External links[edit]