Western Governors University: CBE Innovator and National Model

Western Governors University: CBE Innovator and National Model

Robert Mendenhall (Western Governors University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0932-5.ch019
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Abstract

The university was created as a non-profit, online, competency-based university to expand access to affordable higher education as a supplement to state higher education systems. It was created with two key guiding principles: 1) To develop a model for competency-based education that would measure learning rather than time, and tie the competencies being taught to workplace needs. 2) To use technology to create a new business model in higher education that would increase the productivity of higher education (high quality education at lower cost) while expanding access.
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Introduction

Western Governors University (WGU) was founded in 1997 as a private, non-profit, online, competency-based university. It was first conceptualized by the then governor members of the Western Governors’ Association as a way to expand access to affordable post secondary education for their constituencies. It was envisioned as a supplement to courses and resources already available within the higher education systems of their various states. The two key guiding principles for WGU were:

  • 1.

    To develop a model for competency-based education that would measure learning rather than time, and tie the competencies being taught to workplace needs.

  • 2.

    To use technology to create a new business model in higher education that would increase the productivity of higher education (high quality education at lower cost) while expanding access.

These principles continue to guide WGU today. WGU’s culture has evolved to include two additional principles:

  • 3.

    A complete focus on student outcomes and student success as the “reason for being” of the University.

  • 4.

    A commitment to continuously measure and improve performance through data-driven decision making.

Guiding the daily work and focus at WGU is the WGU Student and Employee Promise:

  • We help our students achieve their dreams for a degree and career success by providing a personal, flexible, and affordable education based on real world competencies.

  • We provide employees a meaningful, enjoyable and rewarding work experience.

After 18 years, WGU (www.wgu.edu) has become a national model for successfully implementing competency-based education at scale and at an affordable price. WGU currently has over 60,000 students in more than 50 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in business, information technology, K-12 teacher licensure preparation, and health professions. WGU has over 55,000 graduates and continues to grow more than 20% per year. Significantly, WGU has leveraged technology, organization, and focus to be entirely self-sustaining on tuition of only $6000 for a 12-month year, and has not increased tuition since 2008. In addition, students graduate with a bachelor’s degree in an average of 2 ½ years (vs. 5 years nationally), and master’s degree recipients typically complete in 2 years, even while working full-time. Finally, WGU graduates have better employment outcomes than the national average for more traditional state university graduates.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Competencies: Describe the understanding, skills, and professional values required of a student that are essential for beginning the unsupervised practice of a career.

Evaluator: WGU faculty member with an advanced degree that is an accomplished subject matter expert with academic faculty and workplace credentials that validates the competency of students through performance assessments.

Modified Angoff Approach: This method requires the assembly of a group of subject matter experts, who are asked to evaluate each item and estimate the proportion of minimally competent examinees that would correctly answer the item.

Competency Unit: Measurement of learning rather than time, equivalent to a credit hour of learning.

Program Councils: A group of education and industry experts in specific degree areas that meet to identify and compile competencies expected of a graduate within that degree. Provide policy, guidance, quality oversight, and external validation of WGU’s programs.

Mentor: WGU faculty member with an advanced degree and experience in the field the student is studying. The mentor works with the student wherever he or she is – via email, telephone, online chat, and threaded discussion groups – from enrollment to the completion of the degree.

Competency-Based Learning: A model that measures learning rather than time, utilizes direct assessment of learning in lieu of credit or clock hours.

Evidenced Centered Design: Describes a program of research and application carried out at Educational Testing Service since 1997 by Robert J. Mislevy, Linda S. Steinberg, and Russell G. Almond. The work introduces a principled framework for designing, producing, and delivering educational assessments.

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