An online university could lose more than $700 million in funding if the Education Department heeds advice in a Thursday audit by its own Office of Inspector General.
The office suggested stripping Western Governors University of its grants and loans, alleging that faculty at the nonprofit online school do not interact enough with students, according to The Washington Post.
Western Governors University, which boasts 83,000 students, uses competency-based education, a style of learning that emphasizes individualized paces for students. Department of Education investigators argued that the school’s accredited distance education programs actually operate as correspondence courses. If the majority of a school’s students are enrolled in correspondence courses, the school is ineligible for federal financial aid.
“The course design materials for all 69 [out of 102] courses described courses that would be self-paced, interaction between the students and instructors that would primarily be initiated by students, and interaction between the students and instructors that would not be regular and substantive,” said the office’s report.
But Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University, disagreed with the office’s characterization.
“Students at WGU cannot enroll for just a course, they enroll in a program that’s a collection of courses they need to complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree,” said Pulsipher to WaPo. “And because of that design, they are required to work with course faculty, program faculty and evaluation during their entire tenure.”
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, however, advises caution when dealing with competency-based education.
“By its nature, it’s highly susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse because you’re dispensing with the one rock-solid guarantor of integrity that there is, and that is qualified faculty,” said Barmak Nassirian, the organization’s director of federal relations and policy analysis.
“We are currently reviewing the OIG’s report,” said Liz Hill, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is important to note that the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”
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