Higher Education in the Information Age

Distance Education and Globalization II

Honorable Michael Leavitt


Judith Rodin: When we learned that our next guest was going to be able to join us at this symposium, we knew that we would have an even more provocative and heated conversation than we have had thus far. As Chief Executive of the State of Utah, Governor Mike Leavitt has staked out very, very exciting territory at the intersection of education and technology, an area where the governor continues to play a leadership role. Certainly one of the most exciting initiatives, and the one that we're delighted to have him speak to us about this morning, is the Western Governors University. It is a virtual education initiative, started in June of 1995, and it will be pushing the boundaries of distance learning, perhaps even further than we saw this morning. Governor Leavitt is Co-leader, along with Colorado Governor Roy Roamer, of this initiative, and he will speak to us about it this morning. It is a very great honor and a privilege for me to introduce to you the Governor of Utah, Michael Leavitt.

Michael Leavitt: Thank you all and good morning. That was a very pleasant introduction. It's better than the one I received recently at a small town in our community, or near our community, in central Utah. I walked into a little restaurant there. You've been in these places. There's a snack bar with the vinyl stools that spin around, and they've got the little booths with three plays for a quarter. And as I walk in there's a farmer sitting right next to the cash register. I can tell as I walk in that he is, he thinks he's seen me somewhere before but he's not sure. So I have my lunch, and I go up to pay, and he's still there. He said, "Do a lot of people say you look like the governor?" I said, "Quite a few people say that." He said, "Makes you mad, don't it?"

I'd like today to, I hope to, make you a little mad here and there. I'd like to stimulate some discussion. I'd like to tell you about the Western Governors University. Perhaps I should give you a little background on how it came about. Then there are a series of things when I speak about this that almost always come up, and I'd like to kind of go through those questions and perhaps give you some basic information, and then we can have some discussion.

1993: I was elected as governor, and it was very clear to me as I entered office--I had been on the Board of Regents in our state which is the governing board of all the colleges and universities, and I had been the chairman of one of the college's Board of Trustees for four years. So I was not a new comer to higher education-and it was clear to me that there were five things that were true, among many others. The first is that we were entering an era of mass customization, and that our whole system was really based on mass production. The second is that the interest of the private sector was growing thin and their patience was growing thin with this old debate of whether we educate students or whether we train them. They wanted both. The third is that the world is beginning to work less like an old main frame computer and more like network PC's--that that's true not just in the world of technology, but it's true in business, it's true in government, it's true in education, it's true in every area of the world. The fourth is that the market place is ultimately going to shape these things. It will ultimately take this over, and as the steward of nine institutions of higher learning I needed to do what I could to make sure they were in front of that as opposed to being affected adversely by it. And the fifth is that the world is moving so fast that we in higher education weren't keeping up with it.

Well in 1993 I made a series of challenges to the higher education and the public education sector of our state. Among them were that I wanted every student in our state to be part of technology, to learn to receive information and to impart information in the same way. I wanted to deliver the equivalent of a community college into every one of our high schools to make our system more stream-lined and systematic. I wanted it to be more competency based. And we desire to deliver full degree offerings to our students by the end of 1996. We achieved some of those, and we were painfully naive in others. We started investing millions of dollars for a small state in not just the technology infrastructure but the courseware, and it became very clear to me after a short period of time while we were having great success in delivering education to lots of students through technology that we weren't going to get it done alone.

One day I'm in Flagstaff, Arizona to talk with a woman by the name of Dr. Clara Lovitt who is the president of Northern Arizona University--a delightful woman. We got sort of boasting about the things that we were doing. We're doing a lot in Arizona. We're doing a lot in Utah. We have a student network we call our Ed-net system. Many of you have systems of interactive video like we do. I said, "Dr. Lovitt, is there any reason in your mind why we couldn't just take all the great things you're doing in Arizona and take the good things we're doing in Utah and hook them up so that our citizens could have the benefit of what you're doing and yours could have the benefit of what we're doing?" She said, "Yes, I understand the virtue of that, but" she said, "there are four reasons why we can't do it." She said, "The first reason is bureaucracy, the second reason," she said, "is regulation, the third," she said, "is tradition, and the fourth" she said, "is turf." Now I thought: that a pretty good summary. It occurred to me that absolutely none of those four items were technological barriers. They were sociologic barriers. And over and over again as I move through this process it becomes clear to me that it is the sociology, not the technology, that ultimately becomes our limiting factor.

Well, I went to a meeting in Park City, Utah the following June. This would be 1995 now. We have closed door meetings occasionally with just the governors sitting around a table talking about what are the things that worry us the most. I told the governors about my seven year old son who ten years from now would enter a freshman class in our state that's twice the size of the one that's there today. I talked about the investment in terms of infrastructure if we were to build buildings as we went each year to do it. We have challenges just like any other state, and our welfare system and our highways and we're developing water-we're trying to do all the things that it takes to do, and if we're to develop campuses at the same rate that our citizens and our demands are growing, particularly when you start adding in all of the retooling that we're being called on to do, I confided to my colleagues I could not see how we could meet that demand. I told them about our initiative to deliver technology and said, "Are there any of you trying to go through this at the same time like we are?" All the hands went up. "Is there anybody here interested in coming to the table and see if we can't work together to solve this?" All 12 hands went up.

December of that same year we concluded we would meet in Las Vegas with our higher education officers, and for about two and a half days we talked about how we might work together as a group of states to bring some shape to our collective problem. From that came a decision that we would work together to develop what has now become Western Governors University. I'd like to tell you some about that university today, but before I do I'd like to tell you about one of these experiences that we had in Las Vegas.

We invited some private sector people to come to our meeting. We sat around a hollow square, as we often do at those meetings. The first matter was introductions. I'm Mike Leavitt, the Governor of Utah. I'm C.C. Foxly, the Higher Education Commissioner from Utah. And sitting next to her was a man by the name of Bob Frankenberg, who was the president of a high tech company called Novell. Many of you use their networks. He said, "I'm Bob Frankenberg. I'm the chief executive of Novell Corporation and I am also the president of a university." Kind of a long pause. None of us knew what he was talking about. He said, "Yes, I'm the president of a university. We have kind of an unusual curriculum. We only have one degree. It's called Certified Network Engineer. And we have had so far about 80,000 graduates, and our graduates are in high demand. They average about $38,000 each in their initial job." He said, "Can any of you say that?" There was an awkward silence. But he made palpable the point that this was not just about the way we deliver knowledge. It is about what we're delivering and how we are measuring it. And his comment spoke volumes about the need for us not just to talk, as Peter suggested, about the way we deliver it, but the whole question of what we're certifying and how we know.

I have worked in the last year and a half with a large number of high tech companies who have leaped into this effort. Not just because they want to see technology used and delivered, but because their very survival--their very survival-hinges on whether or not they can find people who have the skills they need that are moving at a break neck speed. Two weeks ago I sat with a president of a major high tech company who told me if I miss one product cycle I'm dead. And he's right. If I can't find people who have the skills I need today, I can't survive. And he said to me our colleges and universities are not adapting fast enough. The reason I'm involved in this is because we've got to find a way to find people who know what we need now, not later. We don't have time to be able to let the system mature around our technologies because we're leading them. And I don't care where they learned it. I don't care if it's a high school kid who is just smart. I don't care if it's a technician who has been around a high tech company another place. I just need to know what they know what they know and where I can find them. I mention that because when we talk today about Western Governors University, it's very important that you understand this is not just about delivering technology--delivering education through technology. It's about challenging and rethinking the very fundamental way in which we measure what people need to know. It's about how we can measure learning and competency as well as just how much time people have spent in their chair.

Well, back to my story, the governors met in December of '95, and then we met again in Omaha six months later, after a group of higher educational professionals had come together to develop a work plan. We all signed a memorandum of understanding. There are now 15 states and one territory and a number of other states who have indicated they would like to join this effort. The states under this memorandum of understanding agreed to put some developmental money into Western Governors University. We all agreed that we would bring our systems of higher education together to work in a consortial fashion to be able to unlock those barriers of bureaucracy and regulation and tradition and turf. We all concluded that we would agree to work to develop a series of local centers that I'll tell you about in just a moment.

Let me then move to the questions that people normally ask. The first question they often ask is, "How does this relate to the existing campuses?" I like to ask this question. Let me tell you what this is not. This is not a replacement for the existing system of campus education. It's a new element. I would argue today that any campus that does not have or in the future that does not have the capacity to deliver this kind of education will ultimately be shorting their students in terms of their quality, and they will be at a serious disadvantage in terms of their ability to compete in the market place. That's a word you'll hear me use repeatedly today.

So what's the role of the governors? Well, the governors aren't experts in higher education. I don't stand here with credentials to be able to do that. But we are empowered, collectively, to unlock those barriers of regulation and bureaucracy and tradition and turf, and when we come together to say, "This is a direction that we move," it has allowed us to at least have the fire power to move forward in things such as accreditation, and move forward in terms of being able to bring people together. That is our role. Currently there are, I mentioned, 15 states. Each of the governors are serving as a member of the trustees of this group. Each of us appointed either the head of our systems of higher education or another person. For example, I have appointed Dr. David Gardener, who is the former president of the California system of higher education. He is the appointee from our state. I like to think of the governors as a-well, if you think of it as a rocket. And the governors are basically the first stage of the fuel. Our goal, our role is to help this thing take off and to get through the resistance of the normal atmosphere to see if we can't get it into an orbit. There'll be a point in time when the governors are more weight than they are a thrust, and at that time hopefully we'll be smart enough to drop off and to let this thing go into an orbit of it's own. But for now our role is simply to give it the sense of thrust that's needed to get through the resistance because there is resistance of tradition and turf and regulation and bureaucracy.

If it isn't the governors then, who is it that's constructing Western Governors University? That's the second question. Well, it's a--I mentioned the Board of Trustees, but we've also got a series of consulting organizations in private sector companies helping us. A group called NCHEM which is out of Colorado. It's an acronym for something to do with higher education--National Center for Higher Education Management. It's a lot of smart folks who know a lot more than the governors. They're helping us develop the competency based element of this. The Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications, which is a subsidiary of WICHE, which is a western organization of higher education, they're helping us put together the technology piece of it. We have a group out of Boston called the Monitor Company that's doing our business plan. And then we have this collection of high tech companies; IBM, Sun, 3COM, Oracle, Microsoft, AT&T, Simon and Schuster was mentioned earlier, and a number of others have come together to say, "We see this as a venue where we can all come together to make good things happen."

Third question: will this have a faculty? No, this is not going to have a faculty because the source of the content will be the existing campuses that are participants from around the western United States and also from around the world ultimately.

How does a student access WGU? It will be Internet based. Not only will you go in and say, "Here are the courses that you can get," and on what medium, but also it will help you make an assessment of what competencies you need in order to get a certain degree or certificate.

What technologies will be used? We concluded early on we would not limit ourselves with respect to technologies, that we'd let all of the technologies come together. It's become clear to us that the power of this is the interaction of the technologies, but we also recognize that we've got to be planing for the technologies of the future, not just the technologies that exist today. Do you remember the first video game that you ever watched? Pong? Anybody remember. My kids know all about them. They've got highly interactive color, artificial intelligence, with music. You carry it in your pocket. Well, I'd like to suggest that we, while we're starting to make a considerable amount of progress, we are just leaving the Pong era when it comes to knowing how to utilize the technologies of the future--as bandwidth continues to expand, as we use digital satellite more, as we are able to take the interactive video into the home and use all of these together. The power of this is using them together, not individually. So we are not limiting the number of technologies. We're simply cataloging and providing ways for students to access it.

How is it funded? Well, I mentioned each of the states have put money up. We've raised about three million dollars between the states, about a million of which has come from the private sector. We think it will take us about five and a half to six million to get our whole system developed and piloted. We've selected 20 pilot universities that will be piloting this. We think it will take about 30 million dollars to get it rolled out in it's full compliment after that. We're having to look at three or four different alternatives to go from five million, where it will be proven up, to 30 million where it will be fully rolled out, and this is an interesting part of this dilemma. The options are, number one: we could go to the philanthropic community and say, "We're doing something quite unique here. Please support it." That's number one. Number two: we could go to the national government and say, "We would like you to put some money into this." Or number three: we could take parts of it into the private market place.

As I mentioned, two weeks ago I met with a large group of these high tech companies. They had a clear bias. They said, "Let's take this into the market place." We had the developers of the Internet who were there. Now, they were saying, "This is just like the Internet. It was closely aligned with the academic community. The academic community was trying to keep it kind of in on it's own turf, but we were able to take it into the market place. And it exploded into uses, and you can see what's worked today." Go out into the market place and there are investment capital people there saying, "We'd love to take this into the market." The point is, we don't know yet how we'll go from where we are today until it's fully rolled out, but the point is there's a great deal of interest and that's one of the barriers we're ultimately going to have to work through is to have to finance it long-term.

It is clear that it's got to be operational on a tuition basis. The way it will work is a student will access the Internet. They'll find what course they want. There are basically three markets that we're looking at. The first one is just the brokered course, number one. The second is a full, brokered degree. Or the third will be we're now developing these competency-based degrees. Western Governors University will be a degree granting institution, but the degrees that we'll offer will be competency based. We're starting with just two. One is a certificate in electronic technology, and the second is an Associate of Arts. The Associate of Arts degree now is being circulated among faculties around the west to get their response and suggestions. We expect that we'll have, we'll be operational among the 20 pilots sometime during the late part of '97, early '98.

Some have asked me about other states besides states in the west. We have a policy position that any state that wants to be involved in this is welcome, that we're using the name Western Governors because it originally came from a western governors association initiative. It's not inconceivable at some point that that name may not be particularly fitting to what we're doing.

Once a student accesses the university on the Internet, they'll make an assessment of what class they want or a degree program. They'll be able to fully matriculate through that system. If they've accepted a full degree program, they'd obviously have to qualify into the requirement of that particular institution. If they got a single class, they could probably access that without full matriculation. They sign up. The financial transaction is taken place there. The software is then designed to basically send the money, the tuition portion, to the university that is the actual, the offering institution. Western Governors will keep a small portion or add a fee to it. We're still working through how best to finance the internal operation. We ultimately see Western Governors having a small, central office with what we think will be hundreds of locations throughout the country, or for that matter potentially the world, where people could go to access the counseling, assessment, or the technology.

As someone suggested earlier, there are so many things to talk about when you get into this kind of a brief time frame. It's hard to describe it, but let me just say this: that the response has been very positive. It's been a very exciting venture. It's one that I believe is driving a lot of change.

One of the questions is often: how will it be accredited? We went as governors to the accreditation agencies that serve the western states and said to them, "We need this to be accredited. Ultimately the market place is going to judge us on the basis of it's quality, but we've got to have some means of independently attesting to it's quality." This is not exactly what they're accustomed to dealing with, and their first response was, "Well we want to help you, so you form it up and then submit it to us, and we'll tell you if it's quality." We haven't got time for that. We need to move faster than that. So we have asked them if they would work with us in what I like to call a design building process, where we will work as we go with them so they can help us design it in a way that will ultimately be accredited. And gratefully, they have agreed to do that.

There are four of the institutions, four accrediting agencies that deal with the western states. They have formed a joint commission that will regionally accredit this, as opposed to doing it one accreditation at a time. We think that's a positive thing because it'll ultimately create some standards. Heaven knows there's going to have to be a different set of standards for an institution like this. Libraries, for example. Part of the process of accrediting an institution, as all of you know better than I, is to go through and count the number of volumes and the numbers of periodicals and so forth. Well, how do you accredit an institution that doesn't have a library but has access to everything? You heard Simon and Schuster talk earlier today about the digitization of their entire offering set. Well, that's happening in all of your institutions in lots of different ways. Well, we're going to have to change the way we think about accreditation with respect to libraries.

Well, I would just close my formal remarks today in this way: there is an entrepreneur in our state by the name of Ray Norda who was the founder, ironically, of this Novell Company that I spoke of earlier. He said, "Whenever you're making a change there is difficulty." But his challenge is the challenge I leave you with today. In the world, the role of the United States and those industrial nations that make up this component they refer to as the G-8 have been leaders because we have almost all been willing to create an atmosphere of universal accessibility for our citizens. Higher education very clearly is going to become an export. We have to work together in a way that will allow us to exchange and continue that synergy so there is universal acceptance. But it will be hard. Ray Norda's challenge was this: when it comes to change, if you fight it you'll die. If you accept it, you can survive. But if you lead it, you'll prosper.

My challenge today is that, as a nation, we recognize this is not an easy transition, but it is one that is not being driven by governors or by higher education and faculty senates. It's being driven by the market. And that there will be people out there who will offer high quality, low cost information to the market place. And that if we as a higher education community can rally together and work together and not fight this, or not just accept it but lead it, we as a nation will not just survive but we will prosper. And it's my firm belief that meetings like this with the power of people with this kind of influence getting together to say, "How can we work together and not have to re-invent the wheel every time we turn?"--we can in fact lead this. And that it can be a powerful engine to continuing the leadership that the United States of America has offered to the world. And I look forward to the discussion today and fielding any other inquiries that you might have. Thank you.



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Last modified: 26 January 1998