Western Governors University (WGU) is an accredited online university that offers affordable and flexible degree programs.
With its unique competency-based learning model and high graduation rates, WGU has grown to become one of the largest non-profit universities in the country.
However, some skeptics have questioned: whether is WGU a diploma mill? that awards degrees without rigor or meaning.
This article will analyze WGU’s accreditation status, admissions process, academic model, reputation, and more to determine if its degrees can be considered legitimate credentials.
Table of Contents
- WGU’s Accreditation Status
- Admissions Process
- Affordability of Tuition
- Reputation Among Employers
- Graduation Rates and Timelines
- Academic Rigor and Assessments
- Rankings and Reputation
- Verifying Credentials
WGU’s Accreditation Status
The most critical factor in evaluating any university’s legitimacy is its accreditation. Accreditation ensures an institution meets specific academic standards and provides quality education to students.
WGU holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). Regional accreditation is the highest form of accreditation a university can obtain in the United States. Some of the other major regional accrediting agencies include:
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
WGU first obtained NWCCU accreditation in 2003 and has maintained it since. The NWCCU is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as a legitimate authority.
This regional accreditation verifies that WGU meets the same academic standards and rigor as traditional brick-and-mortar universities. Its courses and degrees can be transferred to other accredited schools. WGU students are also eligible for federal financial aid.
If WGU was a “diploma mill”, it would not have obtained this respected regional accreditation. Diploma mills typically lack accreditation or have certification from unrecognized organizations. WGU’s NWCCU accreditation confirms its academic legitimacy.
Another sign WGU is NOT a diploma mill is its transparent admissions process. WGU accepts nearly all applicants – it has a high acceptance rate of 96%.
However, there are still baseline admissions requirements. Applicants must:
- Fill out the online application form to start the admission process.
- Send in official high school and/or college transcripts through WGU’s transcript request service or have them submitted independently.
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if interested in qualifying for financial assistance, grants, or loans.
- Finish the Commit to Start paperwork, including the Financial Aid estimate letter and Enrollment Agreement, to confirm your enrollment officially.
While WGU does not require test scores like the SAT or ACT, students must prove readiness for college-level work. Applicants can show college readiness through:
- Prior college experience
- Approved readiness assessments
- Professional certifications
- Military training
This means students without college experience may need to complete additional requirements before enrolling. But overall, WGU maintains an open admissions policy to provide opportunities to non-traditional students.
Requiring some baseline standards shows WGU still takes academic preparation seriously, unlike a diploma mill.
Affordability of Tuition
WGU is able to provide affordable tuition thanks to its online model and use of technology. Tuition is charged at a flat rate per 6-month term.
The average annual tuition cost is:
- $8,010 for undergraduate programs
- $8,444 for graduate programs
This makes WGU significantly cheaper than most online and traditional universities. For example, the average annual cost at a public 4-year college is over $10,950 for in-state students and over $28,240 for out-of-state students (according to CollegeBoard).
WGU’s affordable tuition does not mean it has sacrificed academic quality. It uses technology and innovation to control costs, while still providing accredited programs.
Reputation Among Employers
WGU’s mission is to provide career-focused education. The university regularly surveys employers to ensure its degree programs teach relevant skills.
In 2018, 97% of surveyed employers said they would hire another WGU graduate. Key factors they cited included WGU graduates’ preparation, work ethic, and initiative.
Well-known companies that have hired WGU alumni include:
- Bank of America
Many WGU students are mid-career professionals seeking to advance their careers. They choose WGU for its flexibility, accredited degrees, and a strong reputation among employers.
Graduation Rates and Timelines
Most WGU students complete their degrees in 2-3 years. The official numbers:
- Median time to graduate with a bachelor’s degree: 2.5 years
- Median time to graduate with a master’s degree: 1.5 years
This is significantly faster than the 5+ year average at traditional universities. WGU’s competency-based model allows students to learn at their own pace.
The graduation rate is another important indicator of quality. About 51% of WGU students complete their degree program. While WGU’s graduation rate is lower than elite schools with selective admissions, it is higher than most open-admission state schools.
For example, WGU’s graduation rate is higher than schools like:
- University of Maryland Global Campus (28%)
- University of Phoenix Columbia Campus (11%)
- University of North Carolina University College (42%)
- Columbus State Community College (12%)
Considering WGU serves non-traditional students who tend to drop out more frequently, its graduation rate is impressive. This data helps refute claims WGU is a “diploma mill” churning out degrees without care for academic outcomes.
Academic Rigor and Assessments
Some critics believe WGU’s self-paced competency model results in a lack of rigor.
However, WGU uses regular assessments to evaluate student proficiency.
To complete a course, students must pass a final proctored exam. Courses also include other assessments like:
Additionally, WGU employs course mentors who provide instructional support and are available to answer questions. Students receive one-on-one faculty support.
While WGU’s competency-based model is different than traditional class-based education, it maintains academic rigor through robust assessments. Students cannot just breeze through courses and exams without demonstrating knowledge.
Rankings and Reputation
WGU frequently appears on rankings from well-respected publications:
- #1 Secondary Teacher Education – U.S. News & World Report (2014)
- #3 Best Online MBA Program – Fortune (2022)
- #15 Best Online Bachelor’s in Business – Fortune (2021)
These high rankings on legit sites like U.S. News further prove WGU degrees carry weight and reputable value recognized by mainstream institutions.
Diploma mills do not receive acknowledgment from credible ranking systems.
Government entities like the U.S. Department of Education, state education departments, and bases of the U.S. Military also recognize WGU.
These groups approve WGU for benefits like the GI Bill and student financial aid. They have vetted WGU as a quality institution.
Many organizations verify applicant credentials through services like background checks or education verification. This process can identify false degrees from diploma mills.
WGU degrees consistently pass verification. The university provides required information like transcripts, dates of attendance, degree earned, and contact information.
Some signs of a fake diploma mill degree that will fail verification:
- Unknown or unreachable school
- Missing contact info
- Inconsistent dates
- No transcript available
WGU cooperates fully during the verification process because it is a real university with nothing to hide.
In summary, Is WGU a Diploma Mill?
The evidence shows WGU is certainly NOT a diploma mill:
- WGU holds respected regional accreditation
- It has an open but valid admissions process
- Tuition is affordable but degrees still hold value
- Employers recognize and hire WGU graduates
- The competency model maintains academic rigor
- WGU earns high rankings and a reputation on mainstream lists
- Graduates can verify WGU credentials without issue
While WGU has a unique learning model focused on competency rather than classes or credit hours, it still provides accredited programs and legitimate degrees.
WGU’s continual growth and recognition make clear its flexible, career-oriented degrees have meaning that sets graduates up for success.
For working adults seeking an affordable path to earning a degree recognized by companies and institutions, WGU is a proven option.