Western Governors University: A New Paradigm in Online Education

By Jon Wurtmann

Sometimes quicker is better.  That’s the unofficial philosophy of Western Governors University (WGU), based out of Salt Lake City.  But don’t go looking for a campus; there isn’t one.  It’s all online; the classroom is wherever you carry your laptop.

WGU Riding the Virtual Wave of Online Learning

The quickest growing trend in education is distance learning, or online learning.  Traditional brick and mortar colleges and universities are now offering online classes, and even degree programs, and many new institutions have joined into the fray.  Moreover, The Boston Globe reports that the National Center for Education Statistics expects that by 2013, there will be 18.2 million students who will be enrolled in distance learning. A quick online search will yield dozens of schools that offer online learning.

Founded in 1995 by 19 Western States’ Governors, WGU was conceived as a solution for the rapid population growth and limited public funding.  Using distance learning and competency-based advancement, this non-profit university offered an entirely new educational paradigm.  Today, their radical approach is being embraced by students and corporations alike – in fact, over 20 leading corporations provide both financial and academic support to WGU, thus ensuring the affordability and relevance of their online degree programs.

Quickening Your Education

WGU is quicker because you begin your classes when you like; WGU starts new groups of students in most degree programs every month. There’s no set semester schedule. There’s also no current Grade Point Average (GPA) minimum requirement or a specific score on SAT or ACT tests.  So when you’re ready to get back to school, WGU is ready to accommodate you.

What’s more, WGU offers a “competency-based” approach to learning, meaning that at the time that you can show “mastery of the subject”, you can advance.  According to their website, This "Show me what you know" approach that lets you take advantage of knowledge you already possess. You can use this knowledge, work hard in your program, and accelerate your time to completion. You could save both time and money.

The More Affordable Online College

As part of its core mission, WGU is designed to be less expensive, and thus more accessible to more students.  Their flat-rate fee structure is based on six-month periods, rather than credit-hours.  The student can complete as many “competency units (credit equivalents) as he or she likes within that timeframe.  The undergraduate degree requires 12 competency units, the graduate programs require 8.

The chart below details the WGU tuition breakdown by program:

Tuition Rates and Fees:

As of May 1, 2009

Nursing Programs (MSN and BSN):

$3,250 per term

B.S. Nursing (Prelicensure):

$4,250 per term

MBA Programs:

$3,250 per term

Business Bachelor’s Programs:

$2,890 per term

IT Bachelor’s Programs:

$2,890 per term

All Teachers College Programs:

$2,890 per term

Library Fee:

$45 per term

Application Fee:


Regional, National and NCATE Accredited

Western Governors University (WGU) is a fully-accredited online university which is one of the biggest providers of math and science teachers to inner city communities.  They boast accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). 

Students should carefully consider accreditation in their online college research, as many employers only recognize accredited schools.

WGU in the Press

The once-quiet university is suddenly making a splash, as online education becomes increasingly mainstream.  "Our primary market are working adults, who are in the workforce, and need the degree," Bob Mendenhall, President of WGU emphasized in his interview with NBC Denver

The nation was introduced to GU when it was featured by Time Magazine, asserting that the WGU is “the best – and cheapest – college you've never heard of."  NBC Nightly News had also featured the university, highlighting the success it had reached since it was established. Mendenhall reported that the recession had increased its number of students, from 500 students in 2003, to over 14,000 students enrolled currently.

The degree programs offered by the university include; business, information technology, education and health care. The university’s faculty members usually communicate with their students on phone or via email on a regular basis, at least every two weeks. The mentors are holders of doctoral or other advanced degree on their subject of specialization while others are council members. In November of 2008, it was reported that there were about 250 full-time faculty members working with WGU.

“What a great opportunity this kind of program is for working adults. It is very flexible and fits into most any schedule”, stated Ms. Cathy Waters, an HR Administrator with PacifiCorp and a student of WGU. Susan Soyka, another graduate of WGU added, “You’ve got to check out WGU, it’s the perfect place to get your degree and work full time."

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