Earlier in 2008, I asked the question all of us have wondered - "Online Degrees - the Real Deal or Diploma Mills?". In that post, I ranked the educational options available and encouraged folks that if they were going to get an online diploma, it's still better to get it from a school that has a reputation as a bricks and mortar school as well.
One of the things I talked about in that post is that learning is a state of mind as much as it is a program. You just have to be ready to convey the value of what you learned to someone who cares - like an interviewer. That means an online degree can still work, you just have to be able to communicate what you learned and how you will/have used it.
Still, if you threw up the name "Western Governors University" on a resume, I'm automatically thinking diploma mill that isn't credible - and I'd be wrong.
More on good old WGU from Time:
"Established 11 years ago by the governors of 19 states, the virtual university--which is administered from Salt Lake City--has experienced a surge in admissions as more college students look for low-cost alternatives. Enrollment topped 10,000 last spring, growing at a rate of 40% in both 2006 and 2007.
Some 4 million Americans sign up for a distance-learning course each year, whether at an extension of a bricks-and-mortar institution or at an online-only school. Although the latter category is populated mostly by for-profit companies, WGU stands out as a nonprofit funded mainly by tuition and the $20 million in seed money supplied by those 19 governors. To help bolster its reputation, the school obtained accreditation from both regional standard bearers and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the professional body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for certifying teacher-preparation programs. (WGU remains the only online institution that has NCATE's seal of approval.) Such moves were designed to "lend WGU more legitimacy as an educational institution," says Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who helped found the school when he was governor of Utah.
Today WGU is the nation's largest supplier of math and science teachers in urban school districts. The school's success is owed in large part to its competency-based approach. Instead of requiring that students take specific courses or amass a certain number of credit hours--as most colleges do--WGU asks only that students demonstrate mastery of the subject matter via online exams or papers that could take a day or a decade, depending on the student.
At $3,000 per six-month semester, WGU charges a sixth of the average annual tab at private four-year colleges and half as much as an online for-profit like the University of Phoenix, a mega virtual school that has some 200,000 students. And WGU lets you take as many courses as you can fit in a semester, which means some students are able to finish an undergraduate degree in as little as two years."
It's a good story, and while I'm always skeptical of someone getting a full undergraduate degree in two years, WGU should work harder to get the word out to recruiters and HR folks, so we don't penalize the graduates of their institution. I'd start with the fact that WGU remains the only online institution that has NCATE's seal of approval. Also, if you're going to get a degree from on online school, it makes sense to get it in a trade where there always seems to be a shortage - like pharmacy technician training.
After all, if the University of Phoenix can separate themselves from the online pack, why can't a university founded by a group of governors?