Missouri’s new partnership with the online Western Governors University is not in direct competition with UMKC, at least for now. But the revolutionary approach to higher education employed by WGU is a harbinger of changes that will eventually confront traditional colleges and universities.
That was the message Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dr. Gail Hackett brought to the Faculty Senate last week in a briefing on the state’s decision to partner with WGU.
Hackett explained that WGU is an online-only university that offers no traditional classes or courses. Students earn credits via assessments of knowledge and competencies students develop via independent reading, workplace experience, massive open online courses (MOOCs) or other means. WGU’s target audience is working adults with some college credit already who are pursuing degree completion. There is no teaching faculty; students are advised by “mentors” who help them find and select qualifying “learning experiences”; students can ask for credit-granting competence testing whenever, and as often, as they like.
WGU is run by a consortium of state governments; Missouri is one of five states involved. Other participating states are Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. WGU offers a limited menu of degree options, primarily in the areas of business, education, health professions and information technology. The university is accredited, but the education program at WGU Texas was rated as “at risk” by U.S. Dept. of Education in 2011.
“Right now, they probably won’t be taking any students away from us,” Hackett told the Senate, “but all of higher education is starting to move in this direction,” despite the skepticism of many higher education professionals.
“The lesson for us is, eventually we are going to have to grapple with prior learning assessment and competence assessment,” she said. “The value of seat time in the classroom is coming under scrutiny … if we think their approach isn’t the way to go, we need to develop alternative approaches.”
The key to any alternative, she said, is making it user-friendly for adults working full time, making it possible for them to complete a degree in a reasonable amount of time.
“Our job is to explain that higher education is more than just a collection of competencies,” she said.