Seattle Times Hypes WGU

Anyone concerned about the future of higher education, or the problems faced by UW adjunct faculty or by our excellent community colleges, should read this article by Katherine Long with skepticism and anxiety.
WGU was founded in 1997 as a chain of “non profit” schools based on the claim to save money by not using faculty and giving students credit for competency earned in their vocational lives. In 2011, WGU became a part of our State higher education system as a result of Republican support for privatization of higher education and Gates Foundation support for innovative ways to use online teaching. 

WGU became part of the Washington state higher educations system as a result of an unusual alliance.  Right wing Republicans supporting privatization, the Gates Foundation and Democrats lobbied by the Gates Foundation got our legislature to declare WGU a part of the state system in 2011. State legislators I spoke with told me of the lobbying pressure and of the assurance that this would not come out of state tax money.   Unlike every other state school, WGU got to be part of our system with no direct support and no oversight.   

WGU’s central claim was that it could cut tuition costs massively.  It accomplished this by replacing a faculty with online teaching materials and faculty evaluation with online tests of competency.

I have not kept up with WGU so do not know if these have been addressed:
1, WGU  replaced faculty with coaches, usually people with no expertise in course material, The argument is that the materials do the teaching and the coaches help students use the materials.  Long’s article somehow failed to mention that last year, a federal audit concluded that many WGU courses do not offer regular and substantive interaction with an instructor, and much of the curriculum fails to meet federal eligibility standards for financial aid.
2. “Nonprofit”   WGU’s founders and high level administrator’s salaries are not disclosed to the public.  Moreover, WGU administrators are free of State rules about conflicts of interest.  As a result, founders, and I assume the current administrators, served on boards of the for-profit industry that creates WGU’s coursework.
3.  Lange’s article claims that WGU now has an exemplary rate of employment after graduation.  I am skeptical about this.   When I did look into this, the claims were based more on WGU hype then on any actual comparison with other higher education institutions such as our own community colleges or the successful for-profit chains.  Individual students who wrote me and employers I spoke with made me concerned that employers do not see WGU “competency” as equivalent to a certificate or degree from other state schools.
4. The legislature’s approval of WGU as part of our higher education mix did not provide direct funding nor did it put  WGU under the authority of the state higher education board.  However, state funds still go to WGU as a state school because of student tuition.  A bill passed in April 2013 made students eligible for state grants like in-state schools. A transfer agreement allows students who graduate from state community colleges to receive a 5% discount.


I would really like to know if anything has changed.

Stephen M. Schwartz

Your Comment