Last week I spoke with a professional writer and editor charged with ghost writing a history of Western Governors University. I became involved with this project in 1995, at the invitation of Fife Symington III, then Governor of Arizona. As a founding trustee of the new university from 1996 to 2006. I enjoyed an extraordinary learning opportunity.
I learned to question the traditional ways in which public colleges and universities served students and communities in the 1990s. I learned what could be done for students and communities by harnessing the power of emerging technologies. I learned that it was possible to develop new business models for higher education, models that generally lowered the cost of earning a degree. And I learned that assessments of what students know and can do in a given realm tell us a great deal more about academic progress than a tally of courses taken and credit hours earned.
More importantly, the WGU experience got me out of the higher education bubble in which by the 1990s I had very comfortably settled. The governors and business leaders with whom my colleagues and I interacted were friends of higher education, but friends who asked many tough questions. I learned to be proud of my contributions, yet also humble because I recognized how much of WGU’s energy and identity came from smart people outside of higher education.