A virtual college has its first grad

A virtual college has its first grad

BY TRUDY WALSH | GCN STAFF

After two years, Western Governors' University (WGU), a nonprofit university with virtual campuses in 19 states, has awarded its first degree. Two more students will graduate this month.

Gennie Kirch, a Roy, Utah, elementary school teacher, received a master's degree in learning and technology in December.

In the past year, the university, at www.wgu.edu, has made considerable strides. Enrollment is up 150 percent from last year, from 200 to 500 students. WGU last year achieved status as a candidate for accreditation by the Inter-Regional Accrediting Committee.

The founding governors of WGU predicted in 1998 that by 2000 the school would have 500 students in its degree programs, 3,000 students in certificate programs, and 10,000 students taking classes from other schools through WGU.

Great expectations

Many have criticized WGU, once called the distance-learning poster child, for creating unrealistic and inflated expectations.

'We've had 19 different spokesmen for the university,' said Amy Tejral, WGU's director of university affairs. 'It was tough to control what kind of expectations were out there.'

First graduate Kirch said she never would have received her master's degree without WGU. 'Time, money and family circumstances prevented it from happening,' Kirch said.

WGU offers 939 courses from 40 schools. The school does not give letter grades. Instead, a team of academics and researchers assess what WGU calls a demonstration of competencies.

'One of the main benefits of this assessment process is that people don't have to go back and take courses they already know,' Tejral said.

Another feature that sets WGU apart from other distance-learning programs is faculty mentors. Each student has one. Students often talk with them by e-mail, Tejral said. 'They can talk on the phone, of course, but most students use e-mail because they have the system set up anyway.'

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