The Incestuous Synergy and Stench of Western Governors University NC

The billboards are already up on I-40. Two are visible in the ride from Winston-Salem to Raleigh.

“Western Governors University: North Carolina”

It’s a national online university that now has a base here in North Carolina. Have not heard of it? Well, it was proposed rather secretly within the 2015 budget – page 86 to be specific.

WGU1

On May 21, 2015, Sarah Ovaska-Few reported on the controversial online college known as Western Governors University and its shady introduction to North Carolina in “Controversial online college on its way to North Carolina?” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/05/21/controversial-online-college-on-its-way-to-north-carolina/).

Some of the more eye-opening, yet not surprising elements of the story included:

  • A controversial online university that credits students for their existing skills and knowledge could soon have a larger role in North Carolina, with a funding stream carved out in the state House’s version of the budget.”
  • “Though WGU is not named directly in the budget, a reference deep in the 317-page proposed budget (pages 86 and 87) written by House Republicans would allow a private online school that uses the competency model of education to receive some of the nearly $90 million slated for need-based scholarships the state provides to low-income students attending private colleges and universities in the state.”
  • “In North Carolina, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a conservative think-tank funded by former state budget director Art Pope’s family foundation, has pushed to bring WGU to the state. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, serves on the Pope Center board.”
  • “Critics say WGU’s model, which uses classes developed by third-party vendors and has less faculty involvement than that of traditional community college or university classes, delivers a subpar education at costs not all that different from what some public university and community colleges can offer.”
  • “The online school is also quick to accept students’ previous college credits, but once students began taking classes at WGU, it can be difficult to get those classes recognized outside the online university, Pressnell said.”
  • “WGU’s six-year completion or graduation rate is only about 38 percent, a number that WGU hopes to raise to over 60 percent in coming years, said Mitchell, the spokeswoman for the Utah-based online university.”

With entities such as University of Phoenix, Strayer, and the now defunct Trump University already in the spotlight, this supposed “non-profit” university whose model has come into question now has become reality in North Carolina.

WGU3

With names such as Art Pope and Tim Moore already associated with it in 2015, there has to be more incestuous synergy to make it happen in 2017.

Enter Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Sen. Chad Barefoot, and former education advisor to Gov. McCrory, Catherine Truitt.

As reported in the Oct. 10th edition of the Raleigh News & Observer, Western Governors University now has its firm footing in the state. Colin Campbell’s work in “Former McCrory aide to lead online university launched with $2 million from state” sheds light on the recent evolution of another way that West Jones Street is undermining post-secondary education in North Carolina.

Campbell states,

“The 2015 state budget included a $2 million allocation to Western Governors University, or WGU, even though it already had enrolled students in North Carolina. Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican, told WRAL at the time that the money would help forge relationships with other schools and hospitals to allow students to do practical learning and internships.

The grant required WGU to raise $5 million in private funds in order to receive the $2 million. Donors included the Golden LEAF Foundation – which administers the state’s share of tobacco settlement funds – as well as Strada Education Network and Utah developer Dell Loy Hansen. WGU North Carolina’s leader will be Catherine Truitt, who served as Gov. Pat McCrory’s education adviser before joining the UNC system’s general administration as an associate vice president. McCrory was involved in the 2015 grant” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article178069926.html).

McCrory’s involvement? That was an executive order as explained on page 86 of the 2015 budget.

“Satisfies the competencies for online educational institutions established by executive order of the Governor.”

North Carolina still boasts one of the nation’s premiere public university systems even after the assault on it by the General Assembly. The pretense of it being some place where people can work at their own pace with “previous” experience used as credits makes it sound more predatory than needed. Models such as WGU’s have not worked in the past and prey upon low-income individuals who cannot afford the time and money to physically go to a campus and meet with actual classes and professors.

In fact,

“Because WGU is an online university, its only physical presence in North Carolina will be an office staffed by Truitt and others. It uses what’s called a “competency-based” approach to education, where students progress through course material at their own pace and can advance as soon as they show they’ve mastered the subject through writing papers, making presentations and taking tests.”

How convenient. Also, don’t let the “non-profit” label fool you. Someone’s making money.

Ironic that Catherine Truitt is the leader when she so stridently (but weakly) defended public education reform while in McCrory’s administration – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/.

Now she is in the private sector taking money from the state and possibly allowing state scholarship money to be used to help finance a rather impersonal educational experience.

But Sen. Chad Barefoot’s fingerprints are on this as well. There is that blurb from Campbell’s report that stated, “Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican, told WRAL at the time that the money would help forge relationships with other schools and hospitals to allow students to do practical learning and internships.”

That’s interesting. Because right before WGU gained its status as a viable monetary trap, Barefoot championed SB599, the alternate pathway to teacher preparation here in NC. You can read more about that here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/06/29/the-stench-of-sb599-raleigh-knows-why-we-have-a-teacher-shortage-they-created-it/.

Think about it. Simply go the WGU’s website to see its programs and course offerings. You will see this.

WGU2

“Education” is the single biggest program offered.

That’s right. It’s an online college to become a teacher. On the surface it looks legit, but in reality WGU has a completion rate of less than half within six years and the reputation of a degree from WGU pales in comparison to one obtained from any of the public institutions in the state. Furthermore, there are dozens of teacher preparation programs in the state university system with greater ties to schools and communities.

So, it seems as if WGU might be used as a teacher mill that will make some people rather wealthy using state money when many who start the program will never finish but keep paying and at the same time work against the very institutions that are supposedly state-supported and more viable who also have their own online programs with real faculty members.

It doesn’t take an online degree program to figure out what that really is.

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