WGA celebrates Western Governors University’s impact on higher education, workforce development 25 years after founding institution

Initiative by 19 U.S. Governors in 1997 has produced nation’s leading nonprofit, online university with nearly 300,000 graduates since its inception

Western Governors University (WGU)—the nation’s leading online, nonprofit institution—was celebrated this week by current and former governors from the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), which established the university 25 years ago. While gathered in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for its annual meeting, WGA—a non-partisan organization consisting of all U.S. governors considered to be part of the Western region of the nation—signed a proclamation to celebrate the university’s 25th anniversary and its impact on higher education and workforce development.

“WGU was conceived around one basic question that WGA members posed in the mid 1990s, which was, ‘How can we ensure more of our residents have greater access to a quality college education that fits their schedules?’” said former Colorado governor and co-founder of WGU, Roy Romer. “Many governors from WGA, past and present, have made significant contributions to WGU over the past 25 years, and we’re pleased to see how those contributions have paid off for residents in our states and across the country.”

With more than 130,000 students and nearly 300,000 graduates—including learners earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees—WGU has grown to become a leading online nonprofit university with students and alumni in all 50 states. The university is the only institution offering competency-based degrees at scale, creating a model other colleges and universities are increasingly striving to replicate due to the flexibility and affordability it provides working students.

In addition to celebrating with a proclamation signing and reception, current WGA members were joined by former governors Roy Romer (Colorado), Carl T.C. Gutierrez (Guam), WGU Regional Vice President Tonya Drake and WGU’s Chief Operating Officer, David Grow, who addressed the inaugural cohort of delegates in the WGA Leadership Institute (WGLI). The cohort includes Kaitlin Walker of North Dakota, a WGU graduate and high school math teacher.

“The WGLI has been an amazing opportunity to network with likeminded peers and leaders from many fields,” said Walker. “Learning how current leaders have gotten to where they are, hearing about the current issues being tackled by the Western Governors Association, and being able to have discussions with experts and leaders has made this experience one that I am excited to use to continue developing my own leadership skills back in my community.”

Recently, several WGA member-states have worked closely with WGU to continue expanding pathways to opportunity for residents in their states. Last year, Gov. Spencer Cox (Utah) partnered with the university to create the Adult Learners Grant Program to expand state financial aid to working students who need to earn postsecondary degrees and certificates through online programs. Gov. Brad Little (Idaho), the 2022 WGA Chairman, took administrative action in 2021 to qualify the university’s students for need-based financial assistance offered by Idaho. Gov. Gianforte (Montana) also expanded eligibility of financial assistance offered by the state to WGU’s students through an agreement signed in 2021. Additional WGA member-states are working with the university to expand workforce development opportunities in their states.

“Employers in Western states and across the country desperately need skilled workers in many different fields, including health care, education, cybersecurity and manufacturing,” said Gov. Little.  “Western Governors University has and will continue to play an important role in workforce development, especially in serving adult learners, many of whom are working full-time while pursuing their education, are first-generation students and live in rural areas.”

WGU Regional Vice President Tonya Drake said it was a privilege to meet the WGA delegates and listen to ways they plan to serve and provide leadership to their local communities.

“We are looking forward to the next 25 years of breaking traditions and creating new pathways to opportunities to enable more adult learners to achieve their dreams,” Drake said.