Sunday Jul 22, 2012

Happy Birthday WGU!

I was recently granted a seat on Western Governors University national advisory board, and just returned from their semi-annual board meeting and 15-year anniversary commemoration. For those of you that are not familiar with WGU, it's the first of it's kind competency-based, non-profit, on-line university that was originally established in Utah and now has official state-branded institutions in Washington, Indiana, and Texas. WGU is very focused with programs in Nursing, IT, Business, and a teachers college. Their primary audience is adult learners that require non-standard hours and delivery models for education.

It's withstood some withering criticism from traditional higher ed, and has also been the unfortunate victim of collateral damage from the oft-times-justified scrutiny of for-profit higher ed. But despite huge obstacles and odds, WGU has quietly demonstrated huge growth both in students, graduates, and financial footing. And at the core of WGU's model is leveraging technology as a strategic weapon in the battle to provide quality education at extremely reasonable costs. Their core IT philosophy espoused by their CIO Niel Nickolaisen and President Bob Mendenhall is a "buy vs. build" and "cloud-first" approach. He and the WGU senior leadership team also understand the value of data and leveraging analytics to drive up student success, and their SAP (Satisfactory Academic Progress) figures are already bearing this out. In this age of near-vilification of higher ed in some circles, it's refreshing to see a model that's working, financially stable, growing, and producing graduates with a high level of satisfaction.

WGU has over 33,000 students today and graduates more science and math teachers than any other institution in the US (yes you read that right). All because several governors, the then-head of the DoE, and some early private sponsors (including Scott McNealy from Sun and Thompson Learning, now Cengage) believed in this competency-based, on-line model of higher education.

So congratulations WGU on 15 years. I have a feeling that the next 15 will be even more spectacular.

Cole Clark, Global Vice President, Oracle Education and Research Industries

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Comments, news, updates and perspectives from Oracle's global vice president of the education and research industry--which includes higher education, research, and primary/secondary education (K-12) organizations worldwide.

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