Despite its name and its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, Western Governors University bills itself as “a university without boundaries.” Nineteen United States governors, including then-Utah governor Mike Leavitt, devised the concept for this public online university in 1995, recognizing the potential and opportunities of distance learning. The creation of an online university would also address one of the problems of higher education in the western U.S.: limited funding for education combined with a population boom.
After agreeing to collaborate on a fully online university, the governors recruited the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education to aid in its establishment. Western Governors University was chartered in 1996 and incorporated as a private university the following year. By 1999, students were able to begin enrolling.
The nonprofit school strives to use online learning as a way to provide students with access to affordable higher education. Rather than focus on one demographic, Western Governors aims to educate as many students as possible from all walks of life, from students of modest income levels to people whose geographic locations or busy schedules make them unable to attend traditional college classes.
Today, Western Governors University is a thriving online educational resource, with 23,000 students from all 50 states. In just over 10 years since it began accepting students, the university has opened a satellite office in Indiana. It continues to be supported by the governors of the states which originally collaborated to establish it, and has it recently expanded into Washington State after a partnership approval was signed by Governor Christine Gregoire.