Education Department Audits Western Governors University

The U.S. Education Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is currently auditing Western Governors University, the nation's largest and most established competency-based education provider, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Western Governors University, a private nonprofit that currently enrolls 64,000 online students, has been providing information to the OIG in response to the inquiry.

Previous audits from the agency have questioned whether some competency-based programs should be classified as correspondence courses, which fall under different rules when it comes to federal aid payments. If the OIG decides that Western Governors is a correspondence course provider, it could recommend a fine based on previously received federal aid payments.

A critical report from the inspector general could threaten other nontraditional forms of higher education such as MOOCs, adaptive learning programs and emporium-style math labs. The dust-up is a classic example of the tension within the department about how to balance its desire to encourage innovation while also fulfilling the role of protecting students and taxpayers from low-quality or fraudulent providers, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Accreditors and the department are also responsible for determining whether a distance education program meets federal requirements for faculty interaction. Those close to the audit of Western Governors told Inside Higher Ed that they could not predict what kinds of recommendations would likely be made, or if there would be follow up from the inspector general.


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