Western Governors University (WGU) is an online competency-based university founded by 19 governors in 1997. WGU enrolls 43,000 students and boosts over 30,000 graduates. Growth has been fueled by affordable pricing (about $6,000 per year), the ability to test out of subjects where students have experience, and self-paced learning.
The Teachers College was launched in 2001 with a $10 million grant from the Department of Education. With enrollment of 11,000 students and over 12,000 of these graduates, WGU is the largest provider of math and science teachers in the country.
Teachers College students are usually 35-45 year old range with the majority working full-time–a mix of educational paraprofessionals and career switchers. There are a growing number of students aiming for a Masters Degree or and extra endorsement.
Enrollment growth was spurred by becoming the only online university to be accredited by the National Council Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and by licensing teachers in every state.
The Getting Smart team is studying competency-based teacher preparation (see yesterday’s post on Better Assessment of Teacher Preparedness). Given the explosive national growth of WGU Teachers College, we called Dr. Phil Schmidt, the founding dean.
Student Experience. Teacher College students follow what Schmidt calls a “course of the study” at their own pace. Rather than flat and sequential content, a course of study is more like a “thick syllabus” with embedded and interactive resources. Students work with a “course mentor” who guides and supports their academic work.
A course of study includes texts, ebundles, home delivered labs, digital simulation and labs and DVDs. In addition to a course mentor, each person also has a student mentor to meet with about progress and recognizing when they need help, not academics. Students need to get “used to” thinking it’s not a bad thing to seek assistance and that it can actually help them accomplish their goals even quicker.
In the Teacher College, every student is part of a cohort seminar that takes place during the student teaching term. Each cohort contains 10-12 students but they are not matched up geographically. The cohorts meet weekly through a webinar platform, picked by the faculty advisor, like Adobe Connect. The group comes together to discuss what will happen next for them in their career path and work together to work to move from a pre-professional to a professional level.
There is also an online community linked to every content area. Some of these communities pop up geographically so the members can meet face to face. Facilitated by a faculty member, any student taking the course that term can join the community. The communities are hosted online by WGU so that students can engage in an open exchange of of ideas and vibrant discussion.
Different and Better? Schmidt knew the risks of designing an online competency-based teacher prep program. He thinks the team “has been very thoughtful” to ensure that courses were designed to meet the critical standards from the states. They maintained the quality of their results as WGU grew from being able to license in 3 states to now being able to license in every state. WGU students score above average on Praxis and state licensure tests.
Dr. Schmidt has seen teach education in different environments, from a small liberal arts private college to a mid-size state university to now in the WGU’s online offerings- “this is at least is a good as a traditional college experience, if not better,” says Schmidt. With tuition of about $6,000, it is definitely more affordable than traditional teacher prep programs. Motivated students can finish the program faster than the traditional pathway and the overall chance of completion is greater because of all the immediate academic help available through the WGU program.
Next Steps. Compared to traditional programs, WGU is unusually flexible and adaptable to state, district or network needs. WGU has created a database of “standards” or statements for which each program can be aligned and build out instruction in various models to ensure students are getting what they need to be licensed according to what the state, district or network needs. WGU is adding a blended learning thread to all courses of study.