audit report issued this week by the U. S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General says Western Governors University failed to comply with Title IV requirements and should repay the federal government $712.6 million.
While the audit makes no reference to the extent of problems at any particular Western Governors University, it does say that part of the investigation was conducted out of the DOE office in Kansas City, indicating that WGU-Missouri's records were among those that were audited.
The chancellor of WGU-Missouri is former Joplin R-8 Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer. Former R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff, now listed as president and CEO of C. J. Huff Group, Ltd., serves on the university's Advisory Board.
The audit found that WGU did not provide enough contact time between students and faculty. After evaluating 69 courses the audit determined the following:
None of these 69 courses could reasonably be considered as providing regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors. Course design materials for 32 of the 69 courses described no substantive interaction with an instructor. Course design materials for 27 courses described 1 substantive interaction with an instructor. Course design materials for 10 courses described 2 substantive interactions with an instructor.
The university did not provide enough instructional time, according to the audit:
The school defined its academic year as 52 weeks of instructional time during which a full-time,
undergraduate student was expected to complete at least 24 competency units.7
We reviewed the
records for nine full-time, undergraduate students and the course design materials for the courses
in which those students were enrolled during the academic year. We concluded that the design
of these courses did not provide 52 weeks of instructional time to eight of the nine students.
The number of weeks of instructional time provided to the eight students varied from 8 through
40 weeks, with six students being provided fewer than the minimum number of weeks for an
academic year (30 weeks) required by the HEA. Additionally, the design of these courses did
not ensure that Western Governors University provided at least 26 weeks (one half of the schooldefined
academic year or one payment period) of instructional time before disbursing Title IV
funds for the students’ subsequent payment periods.
WGU was also distributing federal grant money to students before making sure the students were attending the classes:
The university also failed to return Title IV funds for some students for at least one student who never attended the online classes.
In a Kansas City Star article Friday, Besendorfer answered the allegations by insisting that the auditors did not know what they were doing:
“They misinterpreted the law,” said Angie Besendorfer, chancellor of WGU Missouri. She added she was confident the matter will be resolved with no impact to students.
Besendorfer said she hasn’t even estimated how much of the $700 million might be connected to Missouri students’ financial aid. Students pay $6,000 a year for WGU Missouri online courses designed for them to work at their own pace.
“We are so confident that this is a misstep that we haven’t even begun to discuss what ifs,” Besendorfer said. “Out student have direct contact with faculty members who they talk to on a weekly basis.”
Western Governors University was founded in the 1990s to enable non-traditional students to be abale to earn degrees and helped build the work force. Gov. Jay Nixon brought the non-profit online university here in 2013.