- In a review of Western Governors University's online courses, the Education Department's Office of the Inspector General has determined the classes do not offer enough faculty interaction with students to qualify for federal financial aid funding, and suggests in its audit report that the institution should be forced to return more than $712 million to the government.
- The suggestion is part of a larger audit review of competency-based education programs, whichhave increased in popularity since early 2016, reports Ed Surge. The IG's suggestion, which has no enforcement authority and can only be enacted by the Department of Education, was not based on the effectiveness of WGU's online CBE framework, but rather on whether the institution was providing substantive interaction.
- WGU's president, Scott Pulsipher, has said he believed the IG's opinion is wrong, as the institution has a unique faculty model and the conclusion was too subjective. Others like Russ Poulin, the director of policy and analysis at non-profit WCET, have said that the standards for evaluating extent of interaction were too vague to be a fair assessment.
The Office of Inspector General's decision on WGU highlights the greater scrutiny around competency based education and online programs for failing to give students enough legitimate instruction. A report from Eduventures this year shows that CBE programs are increasing and becoming a more popular strategy among institutions that are taking on a new wave of adult learners — with 68% of students in these types of programs being non-traditional students and adults. But even though the programs are growing, the report still concludes that progress on instituting these programs is still going to be "incremental," and leaders are going to have to focus more on "program stability and institutional readiness."
For institution leaders that see their student bodies evolving and needing more flexible online learning options, CBE programs could be an effective move. But it's important, as evidence by what is happening now with WGU, that administrators must pay close attention to how these programs are being delivered, students are getting significant ROI, and teachers are still significantly interacting with students — otherwise they could face similar consequences in losing the funding or state support necessary to deliver courses.