By Christine Cooke
Published on October 4, 2017

Education is desperate for innovation – both in K-12 and in higher education. We live in a dynamic, ever-changing technological world, and as a result, our lifestyles and careers are transforming. So, too, should our education.

A recent audit of the innovative, competency-based Western Governors University (WGU) has sparked a discussion about innovation in education.

In short, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Education recommended that the forward-thinking university return nearly $713 million of federal student aid. According to the audit, courses are not designed to have “regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.” As such, the audit says that WGU courses are “correspondence” rather than “distance” courses, meaning they are limited in receiving federal financial aid.

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WGU strongly disputes these findings. In its response to the audit, WGU states that it is fully compliant with the 1992 statutory language regarding instructors; that courses meet the definition of “distance,” not “correspondence”; and that the university is fully accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), which determines when academic staff members are considered faculty.

Many have weighed in on the subject, talking about the need to update our view of education and our public policies. To read more of the coverage, check out this Deseret News article, this Forbes article, this NPR article and this op-ed.

The debate spurred by the WGU audit is an opportunity for all of us to join a crucial conversation about innovation. It’s an opportunity to rethink our definition of education, learning and instruction in both culture and in law.

Sutherland Institute invites you to join the discussion and to ask that lawmakers remove statutory barriers to innovation in education. You can do so by contacting your state legislators, your federal delegation, and the Department of Education during the department’s review period.

You can find the contact information for your elected state and federal representatives here.

Submit comments to Dr. A. Wayne Johnson, COO of Federal Student Aid, by emailing Wayne.johnson@ed.gov.

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Christine is director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Educational Progress. She is a member of the Utah State Bar, with a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and a law degree from Arizona State University. She worked as an English teacher at a public school and a residential treatment center. She also worked with the Arizona Office of the Governor, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Goldwater Institute, and The Heritage Foundation.

Christine is regularly featured in national, local and regional publications and radio shows. Christine is an appointed member of the state Competency Based Learning Review Committee. She also serves on the Greater Avenues Community Council. She loves music and making cookies.

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