The Unique History of WGU
Truly a university without boundaries, Western Governors University is a non-profit online university founded and supported by 19 U.S. governors. At no other time in the history of higher education have the governors of several states joined together to create a university.
It Started with an Idea
The idea for WGU was born in 1995 at a bipartisan meeting of the Western Governors Association (hence our 'western' name). Going into the meeting, the chair of the association—Utah governor Mike Leavitt—had the foresight to realize that distance learning technologies had the power to tackle one of the western states’ most pressing problems: rapid population growth confronted by limited public funds for educational services.
The governors decided then and there to create their own university. They agreed that this new university would make maximum use of distance learning technologies, would be collaborative among the western member states, and would use competencies rather than seat time as the measure of its outcomes.
Designing an Online University
To do this, the governors enlisted the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) to help design the newly envisioned university. Five themes remained central to the effort:
- Responsiveness to employment and societal needs.
- A focus on competency-based education.
- Expanding access.
- Development of a technology infrastructure.
WGU was chartered in 1996, was incorporated as a private, non-profit university in 1997, and began accepting students in 1999.
An Online University with a Mission
WGU is very mission driven. Created to expand access to higher education through online, competency-based degree programs, WGU’s mission has remained one of helping hardworking adults meet their educational goals and improve their career opportunities.
To fulfill the mission, the founding governors also insisted that WGU be affordable, flexible, and student-focused. Hence, WGU strives to serve as many students as possible—including minorities, first-generation college students, those with modest incomes, and others whose lives or geographic locations do not allow them to attend traditional, campus-based colleges.
WGU has flourished into a national university, serving over 25,000 students from all 50 states, yet remains non-bureaucratic and innovative. It continues to receive praise for its academic model and to enhance its reputation with employers for the emphasis on graduating highly competent professionals.
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