BREAKING NEWS: WGU Can Now “Upgrade” Any Associate Degree to a Bachelor’s or Master’s for $12,000

WA state’s public colleges and universities have high standards that are recognized across the nation.  The UW is rated amongst the elite, small group of public Ivies .  WSU is a premier state university while WWU and Evergreen regularly rank at the top of national surveys.  Our other regional schools and our community colleges are … or have been .. rated as amongst the nation’s best.

Now, for $12,000 anyone can buy a WA state degree that meets none of these standards!

If what Katherine Long has written in today’s Seattle Times is true, Western Governors University is now be planning to use its out of state accreditation status so that any student at any Wash. State Community College can, in effect, upgrade their Associates degree to a “Bachelors” or “Masters” without meeting the academic standards of our state!

By any rational measure, WGU is LESS able to offer Bachelors or Masters degrees than most of our existing Community Colleges. WGU’s model of an  “online university” has no faculty with the expertise to teach the skills we now expect of anyone earning a Bachelors or Masters’ degree from a Washington state college. WGU online course workt is graded pass fail with no faculty oversight to assure that minimal standards are met.

The contrast  with the offerings at any Washington State Community College is stark.  Even when teaching online, the Colleges have faculty that supervise course work and help students with the challenges that go beyond learning on your own from a machine or watching lectures while in your pajamas.  This part of Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree includes challenges like writing, programming, reading with understanding,   interpersonal interactions, science laboratories, business team building, or defending your point of view.

How many WGU grads will get a job in the 21st century without these basic skills?  The NY Times, working with the Chronicle of Higher Education have addressed this, pointing out that by and large online business school degrees are worthless because that do not offer the kind of real world interaction skills businesses need.  The only area where WGU does offer such skills is in elementary school education where, under the laws of most states, a licence ot teach requires real world experience. Somehow, I doubt Boeing will have many IT jobs for WGU students who earn an MS degree without showing their skills to a human colleague. I hope our schools will not hire WGU grads as high school chemistry teachers whose only lab experience comes from a home chemistry kit that come in a box.

The only way WGU can meet Washington State standards is by collecting its $12,000 tuition as a fee for upgrading the CC associate degrees. In effect, if Ms. Long’s report is accurate. WGU will be a diploma mill and Washington’s state college system now has no standards for graduation.

In a surprise move, longtime Bellevue College President Jean Floten will become Washington chancellor of a private, nonprofit online school with a modest state enrollment but big plans.

from Seattle Times

Floten, who has led the state’s largest community college for 23 years, will become chancellor in August of the newly formed Washington branch of Western Governors University.

WGU, based in Salt Lake City, has 984 students in Washington, but a new law signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in April will create a partnership with the school, allowing it to be included in agreements for the transfer of college credits among Washington institutions. The school will not receive state money.  Ed. this is not correct.  As students in a Washington State University, students enrolling in WGUW will be eligible for the same tuition subsidies from the state as any other state school.

WGU this week will sign a memorandum of understanding with the state’s community colleges that will make it easier for graduates to seek bachelor’s degrees there, and give them a 5 percent tuition discount if they enroll, said Bob Mendenhall, president of WGU. The school also will begin marketing itself more actively in Washington, especially among community-college students.

WGU was founded in 1997 by the governors of 19 Western states, including Washington. The school has 20,000 students nationwide and offers more than 50 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in subjects such as business, health, information technology and teacher education. Ed. This raises a VERY frightening prospect. By any rational measure, WGU is LESS able to offer Bachelors or Masters degrees than most of our existing Community Colleges.  WA state’s public colleges and universities have high standards that are recognized across the nation.  If what Katherine has written is true, WGU may now be planning to use its out of state accreditation status so that any student at any Wash. State Community Collge can, in effect, upgrade their Associates degree to a “Bachelors” or “Masters” without meeting the academic standards of our state!

Mendenhall said the hiring of Floten, who has served on national community-college boards and committees, will help boost the school’s visibility. “We feel really fortunate that she wanted to come,” he said. “Everyone tells us we couldn’t have made a better choice.”

Floten, 64, has battled — not always successfully — to persuade the state to allow more four-year degrees to be offered at community colleges, arguing the state does not have enough capacity in its four-year schools to help everyone who wants to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Under her leadership, Bellevue College — which has an enrollment of about 39,000 students, including 2,800 full-time-equivalent students who take classes online — began offering bachelor’s degrees in some subjects, and dropped the word “community” from its name. She lobbied for the Legislature to grant Bellevue College permission to offer more traditional four-year degrees in liberal arts, sciences and education, but that plan ran into opposition from the University of Washington.

Floten said she believes WGU represents a way to quickly increase the number of bachelor’s degrees in Washington, and called it “the best of the breed” among online universities.

“To make progress in the private sector, there are not a lot of barriers,” Floten said. “If you can think it, you can begin to put it into play.”

A state report released last month said Washington’s community-college students are transferring to four-year colleges and universities in record numbers but they increasingly are turning to private, for-profit schools to earn bachelor’s degrees.

The trend is a concern because, according to the U.S. Department of Education, about one-quarter of students at for-profit institutions default on student loans within three years of starting to pay them — a number that suggests students at these schools pay a high price for an education that does not prepare them adequately for a career.

WGU offers “a much, much better alternative” than a for-profit, said Sam Smith, former Washington State University president and a member of WGU’s board of trustees.

WGU charged $5,870 in tuition and fees for the 2010-11 school year, about one-third less than most for-profit schools. The state’s four-year public schools charge about $6,000 to $9,000 a year.

Online instruction fills a growing niche because its flexibility accommodates working adults, Mendenhall said. The average WGU student is 36 and works full time. The school also awards students credit for demonstrating skills mastered on the job, also known as competency-based learning.

Vijay Vashee, president of the Bellevue College board of trustees, praised Floten, calling her an innovative leader. He said trustees were surprised by her decision and will take their time picking a replacement.

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    I realize that these comments are going to land me in the Faculty Senate doghouse, but here goes:

    1. Jean Floten did a superb job at Bellevue College. She was hugely innovative.

    2. The State of Washington has no meaningful standards.

    3. We at UW should focus on providing an education that is widely regarded as superb, so that people are beating down the doors to obtain it — rather than worrying about what others are doing. Time spent on trying to keep others from doing whatever they want to do is time taken away from doing a better job ourselves.

    4. This means that we at UW need to stop tolerating mediocrity, top to bottom.

  2. theaveeditor #


    I think you are being naive.

    Floten’s own comments in tonight’s Crosscut say exactly that. She sees a need for more WA degrees to fill the demands of our companies. WGU certainly can produce degrees, but the lack of standards at WGU .. even irrespective of what can and can not be taught online .. suggests to me that these newly minted bachelors and master degrees will not be worth much.

    While I like you see the UW as a singular resource for WA state, the last few years have not given me reason to believe that the legislature understands the difference between this place and the more typical pubic universities that would like to be more like the UW. While the WGU-ization of our other state schools ought not directly affect the UW, the attitude of the legislature .. including the people whose support we need, .. is all to easily converted from supporting quality to supporting quantity.

    As good as the UW is, we are also not alone among Washington’s great PUBLIC colleges. Both Bellingham and Evergreen are rated at the top of the rankings of public liberal arts colleges. Given the quality of our introductory courses, I often urge students t look at these places as well as at the UW.

    Finally, despite the claims that WGU does not cost the state money, the tuition dollars that the State will now divert to WGU are going to hurt our ability to suport kids who should be going to the UW, WSU, Evergreen and Bellingham. THAT is a lousy deal for our citizens.

  3. statsgirl #

    Should be going to UW, WSU…? With that statement you ignore the facts. The increased number of students seeking bachelor’s degrees has resulted in enrollment growth at private, for-profit institutions. There is no room at state colleges for these students and UW’s policy of admitting out of state students because they pay more has not helped. Additionally, a number of students do not want to adjust their life to fit the standard model requiring 4 years and lots of seat time. I agree completely with Ed. If state colleges focus on providing quality and access to WA state students, they should not fear another place at the table.

  4. theaveeditor #

    There is no “fear” here on the part of state colleges being concerned that WGU will increase the number of foks getting degrees.

    What is very much worth “fearing” .. by eneryone, is that WGU may be a diploma mill. Are you comfortable with WGU churning out “diplomas” based on pass fail grading and the efforts of WGU mentors whose job depends on getting students through their esams.

  5. CS #

    There are several other schools that do not rely on numerical grades for assessment, both in the US and without.

    Evergreen State
    Fairhaven College
    New College of Florida
    Antioch (you can ask for letter grades)
    Sarah Lawrence (you can ask for letter grades)
    St. John’s (evaluations with letter grades)
    UCSC (evaluations with letter grades)
    Oxford University (evaluations with letter grades)

    As for whether or not WGU students have ‘real world’ social or academic/business experience, I and many other students are either non-traditional B.S/B.A. students or students that had enough socialization and ‘remedial’ classes at traditional schools. I’m an M.S. student that has a traditional management and IT degree, and I am prior service. I don’t need any more ‘seat time’ or interpersonal communications classes. WGU fits the bill for that. My current cyberlaw coursework has me writing whitepapers and drafts of SLA’s for fictional IT mergers that pass muster with my current employer’s legal counsel, so perhaps the curriculum (at least for my cyberlaw course) isn’t as weak as you suggest.

  6. 6

    Blow me Ed you jealous stupid freak. F*** B&M overpriced universities that could careless about individual students education. All these greedy professors care about is their union pensions. WGU is here to stay whether you like or not.

  7. theaveeditor #

    I do not know if is a real person or a sockpuppet, but if she is real, then here are few FACTS:

    At least here at UW, we do not have union and our “pension” is based oin our investments (with a state contribution) to mutual funds.

    In my own area, UW salaries rank near the bottom nationally and, since my field is VERY remunerative, outside of academe, we are paid sevceral hundred thousand dollars less than the private market value.

    If you are thinking about money and self interest, please read posts here about WGU and its business model. WGU is VERY remunerative, not only for its founder Mendenhall (he makes more than Michael Young, but from the companies WGU is affiliated with that profit off of the housewares WGU retails.

    If you think WGU is good career prep, you are way wrong.. The WGU model bundles these commercially coursewares and encourages its students to complete the courses. This si a smart business plan but it only works where a set of such off the shelf offerings can give a student a degree. For example, a terrific RN (nurse) may not have her BS in nursing. WGU functions, at best, to efficently give her a degree to go with her real qualifications .. THAT is what she is paying them for.

    Sadly, we do a bad job of showing this RN the ways she could use the existing system, at lkess cost to her, to achieve the same end.

    Also sadly, in areas I have carefull looked at, WGU does nto seem to have any standards other thna those required to print these diplomas. They literally claim to be able to turn a college drop out into a high school physics teacher without ever requiring that the student work out problems in a physics lab or comlete the math that underlies physics.

    After all, as one recruiter told me, the high schools do not require applicants to show that they know any physics.

  8. 8

    I believe that “looking after our own” is necessary but not sufficient. First of all, as members of a larger society with a certain level of expertise in the area of higher education, we owe our state and its citizens some of our time in analyzing and critiquing WGU. Second, I believe that we ignore such ventures at our peril. We need to make clear the difference between what WGU does and the educational EXPERIENCE we offer, else WGU will define education as certification, and we will be hard pressed to break that identification ex post facto. Waiting for the economic destruction due to a hollowing out of higher education and then pointing out “I told you so” is a sub-optimal strategy.

  9. theaveeditor #

    I think that is a lot more than just our ocncern.

    I am frightened at WGU’s willingness to give a MS in teaching HS science to someone who has never worked in a supervised lab and has not had the math courses necessary for that branch of science.

    Here is one simple example. Modern biology IS evolution and evolution is genetics. Understanding genetics, even at a high school level, however, means understanding probabilities. I have no reason to expect that a WGU high school science teacher has the skills to do, much less explain, a Mendellian cross.

    In other areas it seems to me that what WGU does … for about 24000 should be doable elsewhere in our system. Why shouldn’t an RN being able to add on some coursework to get her BSA without having to demonstrate what her work life should already show .. that is people skill?

    I would like tyo see if I can get some faculty to describe other routes for such an RN!

  10. Max #

    Ed is a stupid idiot. Yeah lets sit in a classroom three days a week with a 80 other students and listen to some idiot liberal professor rant about his politcal views. B%M is a complete waste of time. It’s great if you’re 19 but not if you 39. WGU is awesome.

  11. theaveeditor #

    Max .

    Are you for real?

    Who is saying that a 39 yo needs to put on a team jacket, troll around campus, or any of that?

    I do not know of a single professor stupid enough to argue that an adult can not learn on her own. In fact the main goal most of us have for higher ed is to produce people who are prepared to be just that, life long learners.

    The issue with WGU is whether its offerings are even real. In the REAL world, 39 yo’s need more than a piece of paper called a “diploma” to show the skills needed to be employed. A pass fail.competency” based system is not going to tell me that Joe the unemployed plumber has now become a skilled biology teacher that Lucille the typist now has the skills to build spread sheets for my start up cupcake business.

    Just looks at WGU’s website. See if you can find ANY INFORMATION on the quality of the faculty overseeing the online teaching. If YOU needed a tutor to help you use online tools improve your skills in marketing, would you hire a WGU coach?

    By the way, back at your animus toward faculty, here in WASTATE we already have systems for you to earn degrees, on line, WITH excellent faculty resources. at a lower price than WGU’s diplomas. Maybe you need to look nto what is available to you!

  12. Steven #

    I find this editorial humorous. Before writing about the academic standards of WGU, consider running your blog through a spell check program. Incidentally, there is only one Washington State University, and neither WGU or UW are it.

    Your comment that “WGU may now be planning to use its out of state accreditation status” shows a lack of knowledge on the subject. WGU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. What university or college in this state is not proudly boasting that it receives its accreditation from exactly that same commission?

    WGU isn’t for everybody, but it provides a valuable resource for some. I can’t believe that anybody that has sat through a university lecture hall class can tell me that WGU is a diploma mill. It is different, that is for sure. But the quality of an on-campus course can vary by the time of day that it is offered, while WGU courses are the same, regardless of who takes them (and when).

  13. 13

    I find the editor to be an absolute moron. Lets all make dumbass claims with no sources or proof whatsoever. Here, I will make a claim that only an moron who actually thinks you can buy a degree from a regionally accredited college for $12000 will believe: The author is a very intelligent, well educated individual who thoroughly researches issues and presents them in a impeccable manner! LOL!

  14. James R #

    I attend WGU right now and it is very time consuming. I study 4 times a week for 4 hours per session and that is only for 1 course. The material is challenging and well thought out. The textbooks come from the same publishers for courses at B&M schools. WGU is based on whether you know the material or not and doesn’t allow for an instructor to pass you at all. The course mentors don’t even get to see the assessment. This tells you how serious the school is about a student being competent in a subject. No opportunities to cheat like at a B&M school. Also, WGU is a NONPROFIT school. Enough said!

  15. theaveeditor #

    I would welcome your writing more about the WGU expe4rience. Call this an invitation.

    One thing you need to think about is the concept of non profit. That term is much abused. WGU pays its founder a very high salary. Also WGU buys materials fr9m companies that are very much profit making BUT, unlike a public university does not disclose its officers participation in management of those companies.

    Also I find the idea that making a profit is bad pretty strange. The only real issue ought to be how good and how expensive is the education you get.

    Tell us what you are studying and what you plan to do! .

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