One online college has broken from tradition and taken a “traditionally” non-profit educational approach. Western Governors University, an online college based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the first and only non-profit online school. Online schools are, typically, for-profit institutions and are funded largely by the tuition their students pay. This tuition, in turn, often comes from federal aid awarded to students by the government. Recent criticism has focused primarily on this federal aid usage, unfavorable loan repayment rates and the recruiting tactics used by for-profits to enroll their students.
Western Governors University, however, has been immune to this for-profit scrutiny. And, with an increase in federal regulations on for-profits looming, WGU’s non-profit status will help to safeguard them from federal funding cuts which will likely affect other online schools. In addition, if regulations are emplaced across the higher educational board, WGU’s administrators say the school won’t have a problem complying. Loan default rates at WGU are some of the lowest in the nation at 6%. Most online, for-profit colleges have a default rate of 11.6% while schools nationwide have a 7% default average.
As the first non-profit online education institution, WGU has been “winning prizes and praise” throughout the higher education sector. WGU’s focus, unlike many other online and ground-school education providers, is not to satisfy the needs of shareholders. Instead, WGU concentrates on affordability for under-represented or non-traditional students. In fact, because WGU is a non-profit and relies only on “seed money” from 19 state governors and yearly student tuition, the school is able to charge nearly one third the tuition of other for-profit online colleges ($5,800 versus $15,000).
WGU also provides its students with the option of testing out of courses before they take them, something which few other non and for-profits offer. The tests are based on competency and instead of having a student prolong their degree acquisition; WGU gives them the opportunity to earn course credit through experience. One WGU student Michael Varno, an IT professional at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, was able to test out of five courses due to his IT experience and earn his undergraduate degree in half the average time.
And, as more students seek out low-cost alternatives to earning a degree, online colleges and universities, whether non or for-profit, continue to gain popularity and esteem. As one of the online education sector’s most progressive, WGU has distinguished itself not only by its non-traditional non-profit status, but by the low-cost tuition and high quality graduates it produces.
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