Virtual Education

On-line schooling: WGU celebrates 25 years innovating increased schooling

Earlier than he grew to become Utah’s 14th governor, Mike Leavitt served on what was then the Utah State Board of Regents, overseers of the state’s public schools and universities.

He was effectively versed on how brick-and-mortar faculty campuses operated and that the upper schooling institution awarded levels primarily based on seat time in lessons and demonstrated mastery of content material.

So it was hardly a shock when Leavitt, early in his decadelong time period as governor, bought a cold reception when he instructed the Regents, “We simply can’t proceed to construct all these buildings. By the best way, they’re not all that effectively used.”

The Regents all however patted him on the top.

“It was clear that wasn’t going to occur. It’s not simply the system. Larger schooling is constrained to a point by its capability so as to add modules of campus and infrastructure,” he stated.

Some time later, he found an viewers that shared his considerations concerning the sustainability of upper schooling, fellow members of the Western Governors Affiliation.

On the time, the web was taking off and the tech world and customers had simply scratched the floor of its many utilities.

“It grew to become clear to me and to others that the idea of distance schooling was going to be fairly dramatically modified, and that we have been going to attain a degree the place data and data could possibly be procured by having it come to you versus you at all times going to the campus to acquire it,” Leavitt stated.

As an alternative of seat time, college students might advance of their studying as they confirmed competency.

Leavitt credit then-Colorado Gov. Roy Romer for furthering the group’s understanding of competency-based schooling. Romer was an lawyer but additionally an skilled pilot who had been a flight teacher.

“He stated, ‘, we’d by no means let an individual fly an airplane who hasn’t demonstrated the competency to do it. Sufficient time finding out isn’t adequate,’” Leavitt recalled.

The Western Governors Affiliation started to rally across the idea of a college that was wholly on-line and arranged across the comfort of the scholar, understanding that their “startup” possible wouldn’t bode effectively in conventional increased schooling circles.

Western Governors University, headquartered in Millcreek, Utah.

Western Governors College, headquartered in Millcreek, turned 25 on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret Information

Bucking custom

The late Harvard Enterprise College professor Clayton Christensen’s ebook “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” was instructive.

In line with Christensen, “good concepts typically get crushed inside mature establishments as a result of they don’t wish to be disrupted. The idea was that when you’re going to disrupt or be disruptive to long-standing traditions, you wanted to do it outdoors that custom,” Leavitt defined.

So the members of the Western Governors Affiliation made “a deliberate determination” to create what would later be named Western Governors College outdoors the upper schooling group and set up it as a nonprofit “so we might function as a extra nimble creature,” Leavitt stated.

However that was simpler stated than accomplished.

“We would have liked capital so I went to state legislatures throughout the whole western United States to put this out,” he stated. Sixteen states agreed to applicable $100,000 every.

Leavitt met with expertise leaders in Silicon Valley, a few of whom instantly embraced the idea and supplied monetary help.

He wrangled a gathering with Scott McNealy, then-chairman and CEO of Solar Microsystems. McNealy shared that when he was a scholar at Stanford College, he couldn’t transfer faster than what the course construction dictated.

“We talked for about an hour. On the finish of the time he stood up, went over to his desk and introduced out his checkbook and wrote out a examine for $500,000,” he stated.

McNealy not solely put his monetary assets behind the nascent college, he helped join Leavitt to different tech leaders.

Regardless of the rising curiosity and help of WGU, “I simply wasn’t positive how we have been going to maintain it going,” Leavitt stated.

He requested Charlie Johnson, then his former chief of workers, to overview the group. Johnson launched Leavitt to Bob Mendenhall, founder, president and CEO of Wicat Techniques, Inc., a publicly traded firm thought of a pacesetter in offering computer-based curriculum, educational administration and testing to varsities.

Mendenhall had simply offered his enterprise and he was working towards his doctorate diploma.

“He noticed (WGU) and immediately understood what it might turn out to be. He had the talent to nurture it by way of that very troublesome startup section. I type of managed the politics and the cash and Bob started to form it into an schooling enterprise. He was there for 20 years,” he stated.

Exponential development

Little by little, WGU has grown from its first graduate Gennie Kirch, who earned a grasp’s diploma in studying and expertise on Dec. 1, 2000, to greater than 285,000 graduates in all 50 states. WGU’s principals, decked out in educational regalia, performed a graduation ceremony solely for Kirch.

Upon her commencement, Kirch wrote a thanks observe to Mendenhall that stated partly, “At occasions when the going was tough, I knew there have been others on the market pulling for me. This can be a credit score to the WGU format. In a college atmosphere it’s pretty straightforward to fade into the woodwork. With the WGU you’re the point of interest, and it’s onerous to not discover the supreme care.”


Registered nurse Katie Byrge leaves her dwelling in Riverton for a shift at Major Kids’s Hospital on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret Information

Private contact

Twenty-five years later, nursing scholar Katie Byrge stated she likewise experiences mentoring and a community of help from WGU’s school and workers.

“There’s simply a lot supplied for you,” she stated. “Your mentors are calling every week and your professors are checking in with you, so it’s been actually good and I really feel very supported.”

It’s one of many causes Byrge selected WGU, that and the comfort of doing her college work as her work and household schedules enable. A registered nurse, Byrge works at Major Kids’s Hospital’s Bodily Medication and Rehabilitation Clinic.

Byrge had at all times supposed to return to school to additional her schooling however life bought in the best way. She was enrolled in lessons at a state college when her mom grew to become significantly ailing.

“The primary time, my mother was actually sick so I needed to cease for a short time to take a break to care for her. Then, she handed away,” she stated.

Byrge’s plans to renew her research have been as soon as once more shelved after her husband was struck and killed by a truck whereas driving his bike to work. The couple had 4 kids.

Byrge stated her registered nursing coaching from Salt Lake Neighborhood School enabled her to help her household after her husband’s demise. It additionally helped that she was already within the workforce and didn’t need to reboot her profession whereas serving to her kids take care of the lack of their father.

A few years later, she remarried a person whose spouse had died of most cancers. That they had three children, making for a blended household of seven kids.

Now that their youngest is 16 years previous, Byrge stated she appears like she’s in place to return to highschool. She and her cousin’s partner, Melinda Vranes, additionally employed at Major Kids’s Hospital, determined to hunt their bachelor’s levels on the similar time.


An ode to nurses sits amongst household photographs at registered nurse Katie Byrge’s dwelling in Riverton on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret Information

Byrge has accomplished one six-month time period at WGU and simply began her second. She is going to want three phrases whole to finish her diploma.

“This program simply match me so a lot better as a result of with the seven children and dealing,” she stated.

A long-lasting concept

One in every of WGU’s defining traits is that it gives levels in 4 key areas: enterprise, schooling, data expertise and well being professions, together with nursing. There may be excessive demand for expert employees in every of these disciplines.

Byrge stated incomes her diploma will qualify her for different positions in well being care, though one in every of her objectives is to spend extra time on humanitarian journeys the place she will apply her new abilities and data to assist others.

WGU President Scott Pulsipher stated Leavitt and Romer demonstrated braveness “to assume otherwise a couple of increased schooling design.” They took it a step additional persuading different governors to say, “Hey, it is a good concept and it is best to put some seed cash into this factor.”

Maybe extra necessary, it wasn’t a one-off.

“If you consider a number of the concepts that governors advance, they could be in existence for 2 or three years or possibly for so long as their administration exists however then they type of peter out and that’s not been the case with this,” stated Pulsipher.


WGU President Scott Pulsipher poses for photographs at Western Governors College in Millcreek on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret Information

Then-Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer, who was an early and ongoing champion of WGU, deserves credit score, too, Leavitt stated. Geringer has had the longest ties to the college, serving on its board of administrators till not too long ago.

Leavitt College of Well being

Throughout a gala held at La Caille restaurant on Thursday night, WGU leaders acknowledged Leavitt’s contributions to the college and the nation, saying that its School of Well being Professions has been renamed the Michael O. Leavitt College of Well being. The announcement coincides with the college’s twenty fifth anniversary.

Leavitt served as secretary of Well being and Human Companies throughout the President George W. Bush administration the place he oversaw a $750 billion funds and 67,000 workers. He led the implementation of the Medicare Half D prescription drug program.

After his authorities service, Leavitt based and chaired the well being care consulting agency Leavitt Companions. In August 2021, Leavitt was known as by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because the eighth president of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Sq..

After leaving authorities, Leavitt continued to advocate for WGU and increasing scholar entry to high-quality schooling, Pulsipher stated.

On the similar time, Leavitt lifted up necessary points comparable to disparities in well being care outcomes associated to earnings, residing in rural communities and amongst individuals of colour.

“There’s a 10-year distinction in life expectancy between a girl within the high 1% of earnings and people within the backside 10%. That disparity for males even will get larger and that’s not acceptable,” Pulsipher stated.


Malena Johnson exits the cafeteria of Western Governors College in Millcreek on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. The college celebrated its twenty fifth anniversary Wednesday.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret Information

Leavitt’s capability “to advance pondering round value-based well being care, built-in care, inhabitants well being, behavioral well being, these all grew to become core tenants for WGU’s College of Well being,” he stated.

Naming the varsity for Leavitt acknowledges his “advocacy for the way schooling and well being care can advance the price of a person,” Pulsipher stated.

The college additionally introduced it’s launching long-term plans to assist handle nationwide workforce gaps in well being care.

Nationwide chief

A brand new evaluation by the Utah Basis discovered that WGU leads the nation in nursing graduates.

In line with the findings, the college has offered 84,390 nursing graduates from all 50 states since 2009 — 60,368 of whom obtained bachelor’s levels in nursing and 24,022 of whom obtained grasp’s levels in nursing.

“In 2021, WGU produced a whopping 17% of the nation’s registered nurses incomes a bachelor of science in nursing, suggesting that its already outsized position in educating nationwide nursing personnel will quickly develop,” the report states.

Utah Basis President Peter Reichard described WGU’s affect as “eye-popping.”

Because the nation faces vital shortages in staffing hospitals, “Western Governors is deploying an modern method to open alternatives and paved the way ahead,” Reichard stated.

In line with the evaluation, WGU nursing graduates make up 2% of all of the registered nurses with an lively license within the nation. The numbers of well being care professionals the college expects to graduate is predicted to proliferate as new diploma and credentialed packages are supplied by the Leavitt College of Well being.

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