“You are so wrong!!” More on HB1822 and Western Governors

Here is Rep. Phyllis Kenney’s response to my email asking questions about HB1822

“You are so wrong!!”

That may be, but I still can not get answers to my questions from her or from any other source that supports Western Governors University.

a. What is WGU’s real graduation rate?
b. How does WGU make money?
c. Are the WGU Bachelors degrees valid?
d. Do WGU grads get jobs?

I may be wrong, and if you know that I am, please leave a comment here or  email Rep Phyllis Kinney with your, objective thoughts about HB1822.

Rep Kenney sponsored this bill to have an out of state, non profit, online “university” recognized as part of Washington state’s highly rated system of higher education.  I may be wrong, but what I read causes me to be very worried that this bill could hurt our colleges and the students who need higher ed.

Her email is:

My original email to her:
I am writing to urge that HB1822, a house bill now before the Washington State Senate Rules Committee, be tabled .

Briefly, HB1822 would designate Western Governors University, an online “university,”  as an official part of the Washington State Higher Education system.  I was in favor of this until I did some investigation. The Legislature needs a chance to get answers to specific questions.

I strongly support online education, but I am very worried that that WGU, perhaps unintentionally, is deceiving potential students. I have written a full discussion of my concerns at The-Ave.US, a website devoted to affairs of the UW.  That discussion may be read at this link.  The-AVE.US also has related articles, inducing discussions of scandals afflicting similar online-only colleges.

I want to emphasize that I do not KNOW that WGU is a bad idea. However, before Washington endorses something like this, I feel we need answers to four simple questions:

a. What is WGU’s real graduation rate?

This simple number is not on their website. However, they claim to have 20,000 students and a time-to-graduation of 2 1/2 years.  This means WGU should be graduating about 8,000 students a year .. the site says they graduate about 2,000.

b. How does WGU make money?

Tuition at WGU is $6000/year.  This almost twice the tuition at any Washington state community college.


The entrepreneurial president of WGU makes $700,000/year .. but they claim t have no faculty.    At 20,000 students, their income should be $120,000,000.  Where does all this go?  In the scandal ridden Phoenix University, and Ashford University, most costs went to advertising and online sales agents. Ashford, for example, made a profit last year of $127,000,000.

c. Are the WGU Bachelors degrees valid?

WGU has regional accreditation but it is not clear that they have accreditation in three disciplines where they offer Bachelors or Masters degrees.  Three of these degrees are directed toward teachers, nurses, and computer specialists.


Should Washington schools accept WGU grads as K-12 teachers if their education (other than required practical classroom experience) has never been overseen by a teacher?  WGU even claims to educate high school teachers in the usual subject areas but seems not to have any math beyond remedial level, not to have any faculty skilled n history or literature, or any faculty knowledgeable about biology.

Do you think nurses should be able to earn BAs in nursing with no biology faculty looking at what they learn?

Another UW prof, writing for The-AVE.US, has questioned whether the BA in computer science meets minimal criteria for admission to advanced courses at the UW.

d. Do WGU grads get jobs?

The slick WGU  website may be deceptive here too.  WGU claims that 50% of its grads get jobs.  That may impress someone, but the WGU program takes 2 1/2 years. That is the length of time it takes anyone who is unemployed in the US to get a job.  Moreover, a good part of this success , such as it may be, reflects GWU’s retail sales of certification courses that allow people in the computer sciences to get promoted or get raises.   I saw no evidence that WGU is any more successful than many other ways students can access these courses.


S.M. Schwartz

Professor of Pathology

Editor, THE-Ave.US

1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    Reading this post makes me quite upset because the author who claims to be a professor states their obvious ignorance on the subject in questions but seems to then happily draws associations and conclusions without ever researching the facts. All the questions they are asking have answers and they are all on the WGU web site directly. There has also been significant third party coverage in the press that answers 95% of most of these simple FAQs in places like the NY Times or Newsweek and Time. I love the highlighted “objective” in your posts which you are obviously betraying your own bias.

    WGU targets returning students primarily those who have earned some college credits in the past but are likely now between 25-45. The simple 4-Year graduation rates published by the government do not take those students even into account as those students are counted against their previous college programs. Those who are counted therefore are only those true freshmen and they are likely only a very small percentage of the student population at the school and may be the least prepared for the mostly self directed, independent & online learning model. Unfortunately the federal government does not require or track the transfer student population well enough and with rigid enough standards applied evenly across all schools to be a reliable comparison. Best comparison my be to use the % of students in “good standing” on their Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) i.e. percentage of students passing at least 67% or more of the classes they are taking required for graduation.

    The number of graduates is also one that might throw an uninformed person. WGU runs on a revolving 6-month term based on the students date of entry i.e. new block of students entering every month. There are also multiple graduation ceremonies across the US but students earn their diploma based on when they complete their last course. So reading an article on one specific commencement ceremony will definitely give you misleading statistics. I’m not aware of the current stats but again they are available and you must look for the annual total number of graduates in undergrad and graduate programs. The traditional course load for most working students plots a 5-6 year degree with 12-18 credits per term (10 – 20 hours week) whereas a dedicated student with significant of free time (30-40 hours a week) can do 30-40 credits per term if they have previous experience and earn a degree in 2-3 years.

    WGU has a significant number of staff each student has a designated Student Mentor who they speak to at least bi-weekly to go over their progress and help them problem solve. At WGU, most of these student mentors has at least an Masters in Education (M.Ed) or Masters in Psychology. Their only job is to help a student make progress and graduate, motivating them to achieve. New students get assigned a student mentor at the start who communicates at least weekly and more if you are having questions or issues and makes sure you get moving on your studies. They are there to be realistic check on your effort and results and start early interventions to prevent washout. Most higher education programs should replicate this as it is helping them get better and better results. They are also working harder to weed out potential students with multiple interviews and increasing requirements like timed writing samples, logic and math tests.

    Each course has multiple course mentors who do online discussions, record online presentations and coaching sessions, answer online forums and are available via phone, email or even web conference. These course mentors all have their Masters or PhD in their given subject area of the course often with complimentary backgrounds so one Professor on a more general science course might have a PhD in biology and other a PhD in chemistry and they collaborate to cross-support students.

    The next largest group of employees are the course graders who are constantly reviewing and grading papers, recorded presentations, and other assets created by students blindly but based on the published rubric. Again those graders are all Masters or PhD level professionals but 100% independent from the course mentors or student mentors. Therefore are more independent and less prone to playing favorites or taking it easy on hard luck cases. All written materials are automatically checked for plagiarism with TurnItIn automatically.

    Lastly there are a lot of student services and tech support people as there are a large number of online courses and providers that must be integrated and troubleshot. Online tests are proctored by people via special web cam as well to ensure no cheating and they are tightly controlled with biometric identification of the test taker.

    Want to know the quality and requirements of their hires, roles, etc. Check out their job postings is a good place to start.

    The only weakness I see in most WGU classes in a lot of the independent student model is there is little room for group projects and collaboration on work. The school does a great job forbidding cross-student communication on tests, helping others out with specific advice in any way and this is a well reenforced cultural norm. The only benefit to this is that it forces you to judge that individuals students mastery without question of who actually did the work. I have heard stories where they forced a suspected student to re-write and re-submit every single paper for every single class.

    The inflated management staff salaries and overly generous benefit packages are definitely an issue across all higher education institutions not just for profit. The University of California system and Ohio State are two that I constantly hear gripes about the pay of its leadership and rightly so. So this issue is a red herring unless you are willing to question the whole salary structure of every other national university with 25K+ concurrent students in multiple undergraduate and graduate school programs.

    As far as the tuition costs they have not gone up in 5 years can almost any other university say that? This is an undergraduate/graduate school so do not compare it with junior colleges and their subsidized rates. The price is on a fixed 6 month term. The more time you dedicate and work you put in the more classes you can fit into that term saving much over the standard 12-18 credits a quarter/paying by credits. There are also very few fees (only 1 for most students and that covers library services and licensing the required e-books for almost all of the courses) unlike most every other school. When looking at options in California the ever increasing fees were up to 20%-50% of the total costs on top of the ever increasing tuition then books were an additional $500-$1000 per term!

    WGU has multiple regional and national accreditation for all programs and overlapping accreditation for several including those in the teaching college. Teaching students just like their nursing program have the same in-person student teaching or real-world clinic practicum requirements as other schools and as required by the state the student wants to be credentialed/licensed. Again these details are all readily published and explained 3-5 different ways on their web site.

    Do WGU grads get jobs may be a tougher question as most are already working adults it is tough to judge this vs. standard 4 year undergrad program targeted at dependent 18-23 year olds. Most students I’ve talked to used it to tick the box when applying for a better job or promotion while others it is a career change that required a new degree.

    Yes most employers if they require a degree are looking to hire from colleges which they are familiar and believed to be rigorous so ultimately a WGU degree is not generally going to open any doors that the best degree from the nearest best local university might but again as a working student school the experience on their resume is what would likely first interest most employers. Independent studies of new employers of former students report they would hire another WGU student 99% of the time. So as the number of graduates increase that familiarity with the school and its program should increase.

    So please if you are writing on education and the merit or lack of merit of another institution please use your critical thinking skills and become informed before you publish your assumptions.

    As Mulder would say, “The Truth is Out There.”

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