The WGU Model II. Is the WGU model a “free lunch” for students?

Continued from Part I. In that post I recommended that the UW now must choose to become a private university in the State of Washington.

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Business I simply lack the expertise to comment.
  5. 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.

In Summary,

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.

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. ab #

    You are not seeing the whole picture. A California State University undergrad student only pays around 2400.00 to 2800.00 per semester, as I recall. Tuition in other states are ridiculously high. Why are you rattling about low tuition fee of WGU. WGU does not have high overhead costs; therefore, the tuition show be low; plus they are nonprofit.

  2. theaveeditor #

    I agree with you, however, you miss a few points,

    1. WGU’S argument is not just based on tuition paid by the student, they claim not to receive state funding. So $6000 paid to WGU is arguably a bargain for the state.
    2.Non profit status has no relationship to whether something is or is not costly. If anything, the theory of capitalism claims that profit should make efficiency and drive prices down. However, in an era where the owners of non profits make monstrous salaries (e.g. the WGU President) and are allowed to make money of off private firms that benefit from the non profit, this distinction is parlous.
    3. I am more concerned with the deception practiced by WGU. Getting certificates is a good thing. Toyota, GM, Apple, Microsoft, Maytag, teh Community Colleges, .. all these can certify you as having passed some course in a skill. All that WGU does is bundle this stuff and equate it to Bachelors and Masters degrees. They are, to coin a term, a the certificate mill. The result demeans the holistic achievement that a degree is supposed to mean.
    4. Here are two examples … teach8ng and nursing. WGU offers “degrees” in both. Any district that hires a WGU high school physics teacher, based on the WGU degree, ought to be guilty of child abuse. I would say the same aboiut the nursing “degree.”

    Here mis a sacry example. WGU will sell you a certificate that says you are qualified to teach higthg school physics.

  3. 3

    Wow.. you seem to be focused more on G W Bush than on anything else. Somewhat telling, don’t ya think?

  4. MLD #

    I do know that the WGU Human Resource Management degree requires students to pass the Assurance of Learning Exam provided by the accrediting body for HR professionals (Society for Human Resource Management). Most schools do not consider this a part of the required undergraduate coursework, and the amount of graduates from any schools that pass from any given “open test window” is seldom over 60%. If they could move toward something like this in all of their degrees, I think employers would feel more confident in their competency approach.

  5. theaveeditor #

    I really doubt that any employer cares whther an ALE certificatye is endorsed by WGU.


    This article is so full of misinformation and hyperbole I have no idea where to start. Just about every bullet point is full of complete and utter non sense. I would take the time to go into FULL detail on all of the misinformation in this article but it’s so poorly written, researched and framed that I just don’t have that much time available. The author of this piece needs to seriously spend more time actually researching relevant data instead of spreading the utter crap presented in this article.

  7. theaveeditor #


    Like other emals I have gotten, as well as personal communication with WGU, this one answers NO questions.
    I will offer yu the same thing I have offered others, a space to make your point.

    If you want to post here and support5 WGU, you are more than welcome.I would LOVE to read more about the actual experiences of WGU students or WGU faculty.

  8. Jason #

    Spellchecker is your friend. Hard to take anyone serious, especially in regards to an education discussion, when each sentence has at least one terribly misspelled word.
    I’m a current student, and I can tell you the system works very well for the base it’s trying to focus on, which is adult education. I’ve been in IT for over a decade now, and I’m breezing through the classes at the pace I want to take, it isn’t meant for people straight out of High School who really need to learn. I already know the information, I just need to prove it to WGU, and that’s why they use a lot of certs for final exams. I have other classes, like Java, that aren’t certs, I have to turn in an application, which was easy because of my experience. I didn’t need to be forced into an eight week class. That’s really the whole point of WGU.

  9. theaveeditor #


    I apologize for my dreadful spelling. I DO use spellcheck but I nevcer learned to type and that shows.

  10. theaveeditor #

    I have no objection to Phoenix, GWU or the UW offering online courses. I think we should do more of them, a lot more!

    My oc ncern is that GWU misrepresents itself as a “university.” With few or no qualified faculty, pass fail exams, and a lack of personal interactions in areas as vital as the nterface of IT to to real wqorld problems, I suspect that a GWU diploma is little more than a collection of certificates.

    I also sfind their lack of an evaluation program for the institution itself frightening to the edge of fraud.

  11. 11

    I find the fact that you were able to actually put this drivel on a website frightening…

  12. paul #

    I find that you can not even get three letters right in your statement scarey. For the record it is WGU not GWU. I do not want to know what college you went to because then I might have to write a horribly misrepresented article about them simply from your idiocy.

    I am in a hiring position and I would much rather higher a WGU graduate than a brick and mortar school any day. I remember sitting in class and falling asleep to lectures and as long as I was there and did just good enough to be above the curve that the teacher put on each test, I passed with flying colors. There is no curve in WGU. You take a standardized test on each and every class, many of which are industry standard tests. The even more remarkable thing about it is, the students have to research and teach themselves and typically that means they pickup and retain much more than a student falling asleep in a lecture. I hope more schools pop-up like WGU, especially if this article has any hint on what brick and mortar schools are producing now-a-days.

  13. jene #


    WOW!!!!!!!!! There is so much misinformation in this article/blog. WGU holds regional accreditation which is the gold standard for colleges and universities in the United States. There is no way this accreditation would be obtained if it were a “certificate mill”.

    By the way, their online nursing program is designed for nurses who are already RNs to obtain their bachelor’s or Master’s degree. There is no certification to be offered by WGU or any other University. Don’t believe me? Check out any other public or private university that offers an RN to BSN or MSN (management or education) program. You will find hundreds of other schools offering the same degree with the same classes. The nursing program is accredited by CCNE which is one of two professional nursing agencies that accredits nursing programs (brick and mortar or online) nationwide.

    Your post is laughable. I hope no one reads this stuff and takes you serious. This is the first post that I have read on this blog. I can’t believe you have the nerve to “review” an education program with your vast misinformation and misspelling. Perhaps I’ve been punked?

  14. Gabrielle #

    I am a WGU graduate (Feb 2012). I have nothing but positive results from the school. My degree was an MA in Life Science Education. I already hold a BS in Science Education and an NC teaching license. My main motivation was to go to school to learn more about current classroom practices, as well as earn a Masters level license (and pay upgrade). I enjoyed the classes, was challenged somewhat, and was able to schedule studying around my “real life” (job, family, etc.). My student mentor, Alisa, actually held a PhD in education and was working at WGU because of the ease of working at a distance. I had biweekly telephone conversations with her and we spoke via email every 3-5 days. She was very encouraging and engaged in my studies.

    Because I had a great deal of science background (including tons of lab experiences), I was able to very quickly pass many of my classes. However, some of the pedagogy classes took me quite a while, due to the extent of the projects required for the classes. All tests taken are proctored, so there is really no opportunity to cheat in those courses.

    Upon graduation, I have received my pay increase and Masters license in my state. I continue to teach and would reccomend WGU to anyone. Right now I am encouraging my mom to go back to school to continue her degree in B-K education.

  15. theaveeditor #

    I have not looked at the comment thread in a while.

    The best answer any one could give (but has not) is data ,,, do WGU students graduate, and when they do can they get jobs.

    The last two comments suggest that they may be able to use their WGU certificates or diplomas in those systems where any degree works ..e.g our badly broken teaching system where pay often reflects credentials rather than attainments.

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