The US Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General has recently said it wants to force Western Governors University to pay back $713 million in loans and grants. The claim is that the faculty for the online university has only very small roles in the course of a student’s college education and, thus, the school is not eligible for federal student financial aid.
According to a government audit, Western Governors University did not follow higher education laws and regulations. Essentially, the audit claims that the university’s faculty only interacts with students at a very minimal level and that even the courses offered are not varied enough. As such, the office is recommending that the school must repay the federal Title IV financial aid dollars (between 2014 and 2016).
To put it another way, the audit investigates the difference between higher learning courses and correspondence courses. Specifically, the Office wanted to look at this level of interaction as previously mentioned. According to the Office of the Inspector General, a school is only eligible for Title IV funds if it offers no more than 49 percent of its courses by correspondence (limited staff interaction) or if no more than 49 percent of its regular students are enrolled in such course types.
The Inspector General report notes, “The course design materials for all 69 of these courses described courses that would be self-paced, interaction between the students and instructors that would primarily be initiative by students, and interaction between the students and instructors that would not be regular and substantive.”
Of course, Western Governors University maintains that they are not breaking any laws. Instead, WGU explains that students enroll in majors and work with faculty in an individualized program; they simply do not take formal classes.
And WGU president Scott Pulsipher confides: “The OIG for the Department of Education has no enforcement authority, so this audit, their recommendations and analysis, are only that. That is simply what they are recommending to the Department of Education, who has final authority whatsoever as it relates to whether or not they would act on any of these recommendations.”
Furthermore, Pulsipher says that the school remains confident the US Department of Education will not follow through with these recommendations. He notes, “[THE OIG] opinion is that WGU is not following the provisions of regular, substantive interaction between faculty and students. We strongly disagree with their opinion, and just because they have that opinion doesn’t make it right.”