Online University Fights To Stay Alive In Budget Process

Jun 27, 2019

An online university that started offering classes in Ohio a year ago is now a point of difference in the budget process – with the House stripping recognition for Western Governors University and the Senate bringing it back.

Former Gov. John Kasich personally championed bringing Western Governors University to Ohio in his last year in office, telling Ohioans in press conferences and ads that it was a higher education path for adult learners with busy lives.

WGU is a non-profit, all online university founded in 1997 by governors of 19 states. It has 3,300 Ohio students enrolled in bachelor's and master's program in four areas: business, primary education, information technology and health.

Laura Rush of Columbus got her MBA in health care management from WGU.

“If you’ve got five kids at home and you need to do this after they go to bed at night, then tha’ts perfectly doable. If you’re working 8-5 and you want to do it in the morning before you go to work, it’s all there available for you. So it’s really set up, I think, for working adults who are trying to work this into everything else going on in their life," Rush said.

But in a move that some found surprising, the House version of the budget stripped accreditation from WGU at the end of this year.

Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said WGU is competing with online institutions that have been in Ohio for years. And he said there are online offerings from Ohio’s established public and private colleges and universities – some of which are seeing lower enrollment numbers.

“We felt like this was a duplication of effort without folks that have invested in Ohio, whereas the state and other institutions have a vested interest in Ohio for many, many years. We don’t think it’s right to create that competition with someone that’s not invested in the state," Edwards said.

And Edwards said in-state WGU students are eligible for basic aid for low income students called Ohio College Opportunity Grants, and there was concern that WGU would also try to get other state funding: "We were worried about that too, because that does take directly away from our other institutions."

A spokesman for WGU said in state students do get some state grants and also OCOG money, but OCOG money is not available to out of state students at any online university.  And the spokesman said WGU does not get state share of instruction or SSI funding, which is only for public community colleges and universities.

There was nothing related to WGU in the Senate version of the budget, meaning the school could continue operations. So the conference committee will have to work that out.