This need not be. The UW is a resource, a financial resource of immense value to Washington. The Senate vote means a switch of resources from a state marked by world class public universities and colleges to the very suspicious entity called “Western Governors University.”
The people behind WGU may mean well. However, the image from their materials is frightening. WGU is now a Washington State University that prides itself in not having any faculty to oversee content, much less actually teach its “online courses” and then refuses to disclose how well its graduates do.
In Part II., I will try to describe how WGU actually works.
WGU does have remarkably low tuition . How do they provide such a “free lunch?”
Tuition at WGU is about 1/2 or less the tuition at similar , profit making schools like Ashford, Phoenix, or Kaplan.
WGU tuition is also about twice the tuition at a Washington State Community College, however tuition at these schools is, at least as of now, subsidized from the State of Washington.
This apparent “free lunch” is, according to WGU’s literature, accounted for , in part, by WGU ‘s non profit status, an issue discussed in “The WGU Model I.”
This is a very odd claim. Aren’t profits supposed to drive down costs by the invisible hand of the free market? The claim that a non profit status saves money is especially odd coming from an institution that is so well connected to the Republican party that they recruited the new Chancellor of their Indiana campus from the Bush era public relations team.
Without balance sheets, how can I ask how WGU, profit or not, can be so cheap?
Other than profit, where else does WGU cut costs?
WGU’s other explanation for the free lunch is that they do not employ faculty as teachers.
This is how they achieve this economy: Instead of being able to ask a teacher about the content of a course, WGU students are explicitly told that WGU “mentors” are available only to advise on use of the online courseware,.
This WGU mentor concept sounds an awful lot like the software support I got from the folks that helped me clean my PC last night. Like Dells’s people in Mumbai, WGU “mentors”‘ time is devoted to keeping student customer contact to a minimum. The WGU mentors are experts in courseware, not in content.
The mentor model may also explain the WGU claim to use a “competency” model rather than grades. The job of the mentor is to help each student complete the tests for each “course.” Some unnamed person at WGU determines what grade on the test means a student is “competent.” There are no higher grades. Students who pass the WGU defined competency exams will, of course be pleased and WGU’s efficiency will be enhanced.
Without some form of grade or other evaluation, the WGU student has no reason to know how much she has learned … the same is presumably true of any prospective employer.
As with its finances, WGU does not publish numbers on how effective its degrees are in helping WGU graduates get jobs. Instead, WGU offers a measure of how “satisfied” employers are with with WGU grads.
Does the mentor model produce efficiency?
In emails I have received from anonymous WGU students , I have been told that mentors’ productivity, like that of their peers in Mumbai, is measured by the throughput of customers. In other words, WGU is incentivized to minimize student contact since any student who gets her work done online is largely free to WGU.
WGU’s Choice of a Chancellor for WGU Indiana
Allison Barber is the first Chancellor of the new WGU Indiana operation. Interestingly, during her employment under GW Bush, the role of Allison Barber, was to encourage soldiers to show how happy they were with their experiences in Iraq.
Her expertise was in public relations and marketing. Ms. Barber, who also has no doctorate degree or other training in management of a university, sounds more like a supervisor for a staff of mentors than a university chancellor.
How well does the WGU model prepare students for jobs?
The choice of career paths selected by WGU as being appropriate for their model is very interesting.
- K-6 teaching I had a K-6 instructor look at the program. WGU seems to have done a good job of partnering with local schools for the required practical class room training. What is less clear is who oversees this training if WGU does not have a faculty of its own other than the “mentors.”
- High school teaching While WGU again offers practical classroom teaching, their materials suggest these students are very poorly prepared to teach high school level content. For example, students receive lab kits by mail and are expected to complete experiments on their own with out any teachers. Math offerings also seem very sparse, especially higher level course like geometry and calculus that are required to teach math or physics. There is no discussion of how WGU prepares students to teach literature or writing.
- Nursing. Again, I went over the WGU program with a highly experienced, nurse. She pointed out that WGU does not offer certification in nursing , i.e. the RN or even the LPN. This, of course keeps WGU’s costs low. WGU, however, also has very sparse offerings in biology or medicine. Instead they seem to offer courses in nurse management to students who have gotten their clinical training elsewhere.
- Business I simply lack the expertise to comment.
- Information Technology I had two people look at this, one who teaches at a university level and one in private industry who hires the sort of people WGU claims to train. Both commented about WGU’s math offerings. Given the very low level of math courses, it is hard to believe that the WGU BS in information of Masters in IT are valid.What may be happening is that WGU is acting as a retail outlet for the numerous self training courses available for people who already have some computer background but need to become certified. Similar courses are available, often for free, and are given at community colleges and high schools.It may also be that the IT degree from WGU, like their “BS in Nursing” is really a business degree for people who already have an IT background.
The WGU model is based on a combination of the mentor concept with the concept of competency based learning. This model has no criterion for success in terms of the quality of student education.
The WGU business model may resemble a pyramid marketing scheme. As long as the number of students increases, WGU makes more money and WGU should be successful whether it does or does not improve education.
The model does not include an incentive for WGU to guarantee the quality of its graduates.
Without objective data on graduations rates or employment rates, there is no way to determine whether this model serves students’ needs.