Skip to content

WGU Caught Defrauding Taxpayers

  • by

Tips and Tricks: Western Governors University Caught Defrauding Taxpayers

Guest Blogger / October 30, 2017


Johann N. Neem is Professor of History at Western Washington University and author of Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General issued the findings of a long-awaited audit in which it concluded that Western Governors University (WGU) had defrauded the federal government over $700 million in student aid dollars for pretending to be something it was not. Some of us, of course, have long known that WGU, which proclaims itself a university but has no professors, has been a diploma mill for a long time. Now the federal government’s own auditors have reached the same conclusion.

At the heart of the audit’s determination were two factors. A 2008 federal law requires distance learning institutions to “support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor” to qualify for expanded federal aid. The law set a floor to avoid a race to the bottom on public dollars. After studying 61,180 students in 2013-14, the DoE concluded that at least 62% took one or more courses that did not meet the law’s expectations. In other words, students received credit without instruction.

The second major determination by the audit was that WGU wrongly labeled its self-paced courses as credit-hour courses. Credit-hour courses are required to offer a minimum level of weekly instruction that self-paced programs are not. When WGU denied the charge, the audit noted that WGU’s denial was “contrary to its advertising materials.”

Back in 2011, when WGU was first coming to my state of Washington, I decided I needed to learn more about this school with no professors that policy makers seemed to love. So I gave them a call. I asked them about their professors.

WGU: “We don’t have a link for professors.”

I then asked how I would know who will be my teachers.

WGU: “We don’t have teachers. We have mentors. Mentors don’t teach your classes. You’re learning on your own.”

This sounds awfully like a self-paced course, and it sounds like I’m on my own academically. But that could not be. What if I struggle, I asked.

WGU: “If you don’t understand, you call your mentor, and your mentor will provide you resources—a link, a module, a webinar, something like that.”


Surely, things have now changed. Certainly, in the wake of the bad press surrounding the audit’s release, WGU’s corporate leaders would have provided their phone operators/recruiters better talking points. So I called again on September 30, soon after the audit’s release. Here’s a rough transcript of my conversation:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *