Under a bill introduced in the Senate, the state would partner with a nationally recognized nonprofit and independent university to offer online baccalaureate degrees to Washington students.
The online university would enhance access to postsecondary education for all Washington students, including dislocated workers and placebound students, according to SB 5136. The bill’s prime sponsor is Puyallup Sen. Jim Kastama.
While the bill does not name the online university that would operate in the state, an item on the Senate Democrats blog names Western Governors University (WGU), a private, non-profit institution established in the mid-1990s by 19 U.S. Governors, including former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry.
WGU’s website describes the institution as fully accredited and says it was created to expand access to higher education through online, competency-based degree programs. It serves over 20,000 students across the United States.
Under Kastama’s bill, the Legislature’s intent would be to recognize the institution as a Washington degree-granting institution that is self-supporting and does not receive state funding.
The bill calls on the HECB to “recognize and endorse online, competency-based education as an important component of Washington’s higher education system,” and to work to eliminate unnecessary barriers to the delivery of education programs by the online institution.
In Washington, a number of public two-and four-year institutions already offer many courses fully or partially online. During the 2008-09 academic year, eLearning enrollments accounted for about 29,000 FTES in the public two-and four-year sectors. In addition, many private degree-granting institutions that are authorized to operate in the state offer some or all of their courses on line.