Feds offer compliments to Western Governors University in response to report urging school to repay $712M

Officials with online university dismissed the Office of Inspector General audit, saying it offers only recommendations with no enforcement authority.

(Steve Grifffin | Tribune file photo) The Western Governor's University building in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct 19, 2009.

The U.S. Department of Education isn’t saying, yet, whether it will require Western Governors University to repay more than $700 million in federal financial aid.

But in response to that recommendation — made Thursday in an audit report by the department’s own Office of Inspector General — Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill struck a positive tone toward the Utah-based online university.

“We are currently reviewing the OIG’s report,” Hill wrote in a written statement to The Salt Lake Tribune. “It is important to note that the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, quickly took to social media to support WGU after the audit was released, with Lee saying he’s “fully confident” the Education Department would reject the audit’s finding.

The Office of Inspector General determined that much of WGU’s catalog are “correspondence courses” and, as a result, are ineligible for federal financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

Of the 102 courses that make up WGU’s three largest degree programs, the report states, 69 fail to provide “regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors,” a requirement for distance education programs under Title IV.

WGU president Scott Pulsipher rejected the report, saying it was based in a misreading and narrow application of federal law.

And a school spokeswoman emphasized that OIG lacks enforcement power to press its recommendations, including the repayment $712,670,616 awarded to WGU students in aid since July 2014.

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