Western Governors University in Utah has been recognized as the nation’s top-ranked online college for secondary teacher education. Lisa Schencker, writing for The Salt Lake Tribune, reports that this 17 year-old institution is completely online.
The school’s graduate teaching program for elementary teachers did pretty well itself, ranking 16th in the country. The college was awarded this recognition out of 1,600 programs in 800 institutions nationwide, with most of these schools being traditional, not online.
The University of Utah’s undergraduate elementary education program ranked 47th, while various programs at other Utah institutions of higher education ranked in the top few hundred programs.
The National Council on Teacher Quality ranked the colleges based on their selectivity,and on how well they prepared their students to teach reading, math, and English language learners.
Other areas judged were how their students were taught classroom management, lesson planning, assessments, and data. Also included were effectiveness in the classroom, rigor, and how well their students are taught to assist under-served children.
At a time when many colleges are being criticized for graduating ineffective teachers, Phillip Schmidt, a Western Governors vice president and dean of the teachers’ college, advises the public not to generalize. He adds that many schools of education are great and some need to be improved.
“Unfortunately the data is not what we as Americans would like it to be and people always look for scapegoats in this situation and there are two obvious ones,” Schmidt said, citing teachers and schools of education. He said it would be more effective for schools, universities and states to work together to ensure quality systems.
Schmidt says that some of the reasons that Western Governors has succeeded is a focus on competency rather than perfect attendance, aligning its programs to standards, and faculty mentorship.
Mary Burbank, assistant dean for teacher education at the University of Utah’s school of education believes her school’s success may be related to its focus on math and English language learners.
Western Governors University Tennessee has many fans as well. Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Haslam is one of them. Last July, he joined governors from 21 other states, to establish WGU Tennessee. Since then, 174 have finished their degrees, and these are persons who would not have been able to do so otherwise.
Haslam’s Drive to 55, directed by Mike Krause, has a goal of getting 55% of Tennessee’s workforce a college degree by 2025.
“I think the expectation was we bring in this established, proven institution, not for profit, who can provide this option for our students that is aligned with the workforce,” he said.
There have been challenges, says Jeff Clarke, a course mentor, as there are with any institution, but he thinks the Tennessee branch of WGU is headed in a good direction.
Libby Nelson, reporting for Vox, says that WGU, a self-supporting private, nonprofit institution, is unlike brick and mortar colleges in several ways. For one thing, students take a pre-test for every course. If the student already knows the information contained in this course, which is established by the test and the student’s mentor, the student is free to go on to another course. In other words, this is in some ways a self-paced approach.
Begun in 1997, WGU charges a flat tuition of $6,000 a year. Schmidt says:
Many, many many people are far more interested because they want to see what pieces of what we do they can also do,” he says. “I don’t mean it to sound smug, but I think people have come to believe that by and large what we do is good for the profession.”
WGU is accredited in four different regions by the Interregional Accrediting Committee. The college’s first coursework was centered around IT. In its fourth college, the College of Health Professions, the school became the first online school to receive the NCATE accreditation.