Federal Audit Threatens WGU's Aid Eligibility

The U.S. Education Department's inspector general has released the results of an audit of Western Governors University, which calls on the competency-based university to pay back at least $713 million in federal financial aid, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The audit report cited concerns about an inadequate faculty model, which WGU is contesting. The report also said the nonprofit university should be ineligible to receive any more federal aid payments.

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the audit relied on a 1992 federal law that defines aid eligibility for distance education programs. Most courses at WGU do not meet the distance education requirement because they were not designed for regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty members. Those courses instead should have been labeled as correspondence courses, according to the inspector general.

Under the law, a college is not eligible to receive federal financial aid if more than half of its courses are offered via correspondence or if most of its students are enrolled in correspondence courses, reported Inside Higher Ed. The audit found that 62 percent of the 61,180 students who were enrolled at WGU in 2014 took at least one of 69 courses that failed to meet the distance education requirements.

"None of these 69 courses could reasonably be considered as providing regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors, the key requirement to be considered a course offered through distance education," according to the report. "Therefore, Western Governors University became ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of June 30, 2014."

According to Inside Higher Ed, the inspector general said WGU should pay back federal aid it received during the two years before July of last year and since.

Experts told Inside Higher Ed that the Trump administration is unlikely to follow through on the inspector general's recommendations, which the department can reject.


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