Last Updated on August 28, 2023
Mike Leavitt Co-Founder and former Governor of Utah
Roy Romer Co-Founder and former Governor of Colorado
WGU was officially founded in 1997 in the United States by the governors of 19 U.S. states. It was first proposed by then-governor of Utah Mike Leavitt at the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association in June 1995. It was formally proposed the following November, and in June 1996 each signing state governor committed $100,000 toward the launch of the new competency-based university. While the seed money was provided from government sources, the school was to be established as a self-supporting private, nonprofit institution. In January 1997, 13 governors were on hand to sign the articles of incorporation formally beginning the new university.
In August 1999, WGU launched its first degree programs including an associate in arts in general education, three technology-focused associates in applied arts degrees, and one master of arts degree in learning and technology. In December 2000, Genevieve Kirch became WGU’s first graduate. Kirch earned her Master of Arts, Learning and Technology degree.
In 2001, the United States Department of Education awarded $10 million to found the Teachers College, and the first programs were offered in Information Technology. In 2003, the university became the first school to be accredited in four different regions by the Interregional Accrediting Committee. In 2006, the fourth college, the College of Health Professions, was founded, and the school’s Teachers College became the first online teacher-preparation program to receive NCATE accreditation. In 2010, the first state-established offshoot, WGU Indiana, was founded by Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, and the school reached 20,000 students for the first time. In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided $4.5 million for WGU Indiana and the creation of WGU Texas and WGU Washington.
On January 8, 2013, Bill Haslam, governor of Tennessee, announced the creation of WGU Tennessee. On January 28, 2013, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri, in his annual State of the State address, announced the founding of WGU Missouri, creating the fifth state-based subsidiary of WGU. And on June 16, 2015, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada launched WGU Nevada, the sixth state-based WGU. The subsidiaries of WGU share the same academic model, faculty, services, accreditation, tuition, and curricula as WGU and were established to give official state endorsement and increased name recognition to WGU in those states, as well as qualifying students of those affiliates for state-based aid. WGU does not maintain physical campuses for these institutions.
As of December 31, 2019, the university had 119,618 currently enrolled students and more than 167,154 people had graduated from the institution. The average age of a WGU student is 35.
2017 U.S. Department of Education financial aid eligibility audit
An audit by the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, released on September 21, 2017, “concluded that Western Governors University did not comply with the institutional eligibility requirement that limits the percentage of regular students who may enroll in correspondence courses” and that “at least 69 of the 102 courses were not designed to offer regular and substantive interaction with an instructor and, therefore, did not meet the regulatory definition of distance education.” Consequently, the audit found that most courses at the University fell short of the required standards for Title IV of the Federal Financial Aid Act as outlined in a 1992 law that defines financial aid eligibility. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General recommended that WGU repay the federal government more than $712 million.
Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said in a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune that they were reviewing the Inspector General’s report, while also saying “the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”
In a response from WGU that was enclosed with the final audit report, WGU President Scott D. Pulsipher said “The findings in the OIG’s report are based on misinterpretation and misapplication of statutory and regulatory guidance.” He said “The OIG has applied an arbitrary definition and antiquated interpretation of instruction and faculty roles” that “is not aligned with law nor consistent with today’s online- and technology-enabled model”.
Paul Fain, the news editor for Inside Higher Ed, said the “much anticipated high-stakes audit” had begun more than four years earlier and the findings were “not a surprise to most observers”, due to their reliance on a 1992 law that defines aid eligibility for distance education programs. He noted that the Inspector General had previously criticized accreditation assessments for competency-based education programs in 2015, partly due to concerns about the amount of interaction between faculty and students.He reported that “Experts said the Trump administration is unlikely to follow through on the inspector general’s recommendations, which the department can reject,” and that “WGU enjoys a good track record with its accreditor and broad bipartisan support in Washington, with the Obama administration having often praised the university as an innovator.”
In January 2019, the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office issued their final decision disagreeing with the inspector general and determining that WGU was indeed eligible to participate in federal student aid. In making its final determination, FSA reviewed the Department’s Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report, examined WGU’s records regarding interactions between students and academic staff during the year audited, and also reviewed the favorable findings of WGU’s accrediting agency regarding the institution’s academic model. FSA determined that, particularly in light of a lack of clear guidance from the Department at the time of the audit period, WGU’s efforts to comply with the governing law and regulations were reasonable and undertaken in good faith. OIG ultimately agreed with FSA’s issuance of the final audit determination.
Western Governors University World Ranking
|#3902 of 14,160||In the World|
|#1085 of 2,624||In North America|
|#1014 of 2,523||In the United States|
|#9 of 21||In Utah|
|#3 of 8||In Salt Lake City|
Acceptance rate100%Avg. cost to attend $7,785 /yAid receiving 72%Undergraduates98,630Graduates37,509Male:Female Ratio34:66ControlPrivate
not-for-profitHighest DegreeMaster’s degree
Western Governors University Acceptance rate and Admissions statistics
136,139 enrolled exclusively in distance education.
Western Governors University has an open admission policy (non-competitive). The only requirement is a certificate of attendance or a highschool diploma or a General Educational Development certificate.
Enrollment by race or ethnicity
|Black or African American||13124 (10%)|
|Race or Ethnicity unknown||6926 (5%)|
|Two or more races||4095 (3%)|
|Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander||715 (0.5%)|
|American Indian or Alaska Native||288 (0.2%)|
|Nonresident Alien||157 (0.1%)|
Costs per year: Tuition, Housing, Fees
Average costs by household income
Tuition and fees
Western Governors University Majors
|Registered Nursing & Registered Nurse||9,573|
|Business Administration and Management, General||2,634||2,001|
|Elementary Education and Teaching||1,494||235|
|Computer and Information Systems Security & Information Assurance||937||497|
|Business Administration, Management and Operations, Other||1,220|
|Curriculum and Instruction||1,201|
|Educational & Instructional Technology||1,098|
|Special Education and Teaching, General||645||363|
|Human Resources Management & Personnel Administration, General||740|
|Mathematics Teacher Education||158||478|
|Management Information Systems, General||573|
|Health & Health Care Administration & Management||433||114|
|Marketing & Marketing Management, General||489|
Western Governors University (WGU) is a non-profit private, online university based in Millcreek, Utah. The university uses an online competency-based learning model as opposed to the traditional, cohort-based class model present at most universities. The university was founded by 19 U.S. governors in 1997 after the idea was formulated at a 1995 meeting of the Western Governors Association to expand education offerings to the internet. WGU degree programs are accredited by institutional and professional accreditation bodies such as the NWCCU, ACBSP, CAEP, CAHIIM, CCNE, and the NCATE