Forum: The Western Governors University Moves toward Reality

By Workman, Lou J.; Williams, Susan C. | Journal of Adult Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Forum: The Western Governors University Moves toward Reality


Workman, Lou J., Williams, Susan C., Journal of Adult Education


The Western Governors University, whose existence was no more than an idea two years ago, is rapidly taking shape and could be offering classes in 1998. Fifteen western states and the Territory of Guam have joined forces to create this "virtual" university that will use technology to increase access to higher education, and provide marketable, competency-based degrees and certificates. Its Internet-based Catalog/Advisor will provide the participating institution's course listings, student assessments and other student services. Before opening its doors, pilot providers will test the various systems and procedures.

The Western Governors University Moves Toward Reality

The Western Governors University, proclaimed the most ambitious distant learning effort in the country, is making dramatic progress and could be operational as early as 1998.

"In the past, people had to go to the campus to receive information and gain knowledge. Today, information and the opportunity to gain knowledge are beginning to flow to where the people are-at home, at work, on the road, or wherever," said Governor Leavitt. "This shift may sound simple, but it is absolutely revolutionary in its ramifications." (WGU briefing scheduled, WGU Press Release, 1997, June 13)

The university was little more than an idea two years ago when the Western Governors Association, lead by Governors Mike Leavitt of Utah and Roy Romer of Colorado, proposed a "virtual university" that would use advanced technology to increase access to higher education for a wider array of students, and emphasis highly marketable, competency-based degrees and certificates. The Western Governors University (WGU) was organized in January 1997, as a nonprofit corporation with a Board of trustees that includes the governors and other appointed representatives from each of the participating states. These are currently fifteen states and one territory in this unique learning system (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the territory of Guam).

Interest in the new university is international. In the summer of 1997, WGU officials signed a memorandum of agreement to collaborate on several efforts with The Open University in Great Britain, the Open Learning Agency in British Columbia, Canada, and the Tokai University Education System in Japan. Korea and China have also expressed an interest in the WGU.

The new WGU is structured around two key ideas: using advanced technologies to expand educational opportunities to more people, and basing certification on the demonstration of competency rather than the accumulation of credits. Competency based credentialing awards students for what they know, granting certifications and degrees after passing appropriate assessments. The WGU will expand opportunities by brokering programs and courses from existing or participating universities and nontraditional providers as well as initially offer an Associate of Arts Degree and workplace certification.

Early next year, the WGU will begin offering courses listed through its Internet-based Catalog/Adviser. This Catalog/Adviser will list various courses and programs offered by the participating educational institutions and corporations. Students, also, will use the system to assess their existing skill and knowledge to help determine what additional competencies are needed to receive a WGU credential. The Catalog/Adviser will create a student profile, including convenient times for taking courses and the types of technologies preferred, e.g., the Internet, computer software, videotape or satellite. The software system will use the profile to identify learning options for the students that will lead to certificates of competencies, professional certification programs, academic degrees or individual courses. …

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