Scott Pulsipher has served as president of Western Governors University, the nation’s premier nonprofit competency-based university, since April 2016, leading all academic, operational, and organizational functions. He cultivates a student-first environment by using technology and data to improve learning outcomes, graduation rates, employment, and overall student wellbeing.
Prior to joining WGU, Scott led several technology-based, customer-focused businesses, including Amazon, Sterling Commerce (now part of IBM), and two successful startups that traverse retail, supply chain, banking, payments, and manufacturing sectors.
He serves on multiple higher education and technology boards, including: Education Co-Chair for Committee for Economic Development, board member at the American Council on Education, advisory board member at the Presidents Forum, and member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.
Scott holds an MBA from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in Management from Brigham Young University.
Areas of Expertise (9)
Harvard Business School: MBA, Business Administration 1999
Activities and Societies: Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital / Principal Investment Clubs.
Brigham Young University: B.S., Management (Finance Emphasis) 1994
Magna Cum Laude, Phi Kappa Phi national honor society. Significant course work in finance, economics, marketing, information systems, statistics, and organizational behavior.
- Committee for Economic Development: Education Co-Chair
- American Council on Education: Board Member
- American Workforce Policy Advisory Board: Member
- Presidents' Forum: Advisory Board Member
- Utah Technology Council: Board Member
- Marriott School Marketing Advisory Board : Member
Selected Media Appearances (12)
Expanding access and conveying competencies: How Western Governors University is rethinking higher education
Harvard Business School online
Welcome to the Managing the Future of Work podcast from Harvard Business School. I’m your host, Bill Kerr. Today I’m speaking with Scott Pulsipher, an HBS alumni and the president of Western Governor’s University, or WGU. Scott is going to talk with us about the innovative practices and involvement of employers, which allows WGU to deliver on its mission. He will also discuss recent efforts to expand access even further by offering crucial support services to those close to the college-readiness gap. Welcome, Scott!
Scott Pulsipher: Thank you so much for having me, Bill.
Kerr: Scott, give us a few of the headline numbers about Western Governor’s University, or WGU.
Pulsipher: Sure. We today serve over 115,000 full-time students. Cumulatively to date, since our first graduate in 1999, we have over 130,000 graduates. This year alone, I think we’ll graduate nearly 35,000 bachelor’s and master’s graduates this year. Of those students, 70 percent of them are in one or more underserved categories, and that can include low-income households, military populations, under-represented populations. And I think some of the notable things too is that, among our graduates, 95 percent of them are employed, 89 percent in their field of study. They’re having $20,000 in income gains within four years of graduation. It’s really driving what we believe is the fundamental promise of education as being the surest path to opportunity.
Can Data Tell If Higher Ed Is Delivering on Its Promise?
Gallup Education online
The promise of higher education is opportunity -- a fulfilling career, increased wellbeing, greater earning potential -- and ultimately social mobility and a better life. When fulfilled, this promise extends beyond the individual to families, elevating potential and impact for generations to come.
But how do higher education leaders know if we are delivering on this promise? With tuition increasing by twice the rate of inflation over the past 20 years, $1.5 trillion in student loan debt and completion rates under 60%, the value of higher education is more in question today than at any time in the past century.
Yet, the demand for skilled workers continues to grow and the gap between the number of jobs requiring postsecondary credentials and the supply of qualified graduates is widening. Higher education must be more effective in delivering on its promise -- it's imperative for individuals, families, employers, communities, our economy and our country.
Tips from the Top: One on One with Scott Pulsipher
Thrive Global online
Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Scott: Surprise people? – that’s a tough question, given that I don’t find many things about me too surprising. Maybe, some simple things like that I speak Polish, or that I’ve lived in 14 cities, eight different states, and three foreign countries. Given my current role, though, maybe more notable is that my work experience prior to joining WGU in 2016 was with tech organizations like Amazon that focus on creating great experiences for customers. It might surprise people to know that this experience translates very well to WGU, where the focus is on creating great experiences, which result in great student outcomes.
WGU Establishes Scholarship Opportunities for Argosy Transfer Students
Diverse Issues in Higher Education online
Scott Pulsipher, president of the entirely online, non-profit institution Western Governors University (WGU), has announced the creation of transfer pathways and scholarship opportunities for Argosy University students seeking to complete their bachelor’s and master’s degrees after Argosy administrators announced the school will close at the end of the semester.
“Don’t give up,” Pulsipher said to the almost 13,000 students affected by Argosy’s closure. “You’ve worked too hard and come too far to give up on your dreams of a better life now. At WGU, our competency-based programs offer students the flexibility to earn credentials on their schedule, with the option to accelerate, and our tuition is very affordable. WGU won’t be the right fit for every Argosy student, but it may be a great option for many who don’t want to let their hard work go to waste.”
Can Education Innovate to Meet Student Needs?
Deseret News radio
Higher education costs are soaring. Many students are leaving college buried in debt and ill-prepared to compete in a global economy. Elite schools seemed attainable only to the wealthy and the well-connected. Is there a better way to meet the needs of 21st-century students? Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University, talks higher education innovation on this episode of "Therefore, What?"
WGU President Scott Pulsipher on Future U Podcast
Future U Podcast radio
WGU President Scott Pulsipher talks with Jeff Selingo, contributor to the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and author of several higher education books on Selingo's Future U podcast. Scott discusses how WGU's satisfied graduates help the university attract new students by referral, achieving bigger scale without marketing.
Redefining the Higher Education Model
Business Innovation Factory radio
Imagine having an opportunity to completely redesign the higher education model. What would that look like? How do we ensure that we're better serving our end-users, or in this case, students? Our real-world Student Experience Lab helps institutional leaders tackle these issues head-on, through our Design Methodology we can pave the way to a better understanding and actionable model for educational change, but when it comes to leading by example, Scott Pulsipher and the team at Western Governors University (WGU) has taken the lead.
What started as a simple premise to provide access to higher education to underserved working adults in a timely, affordable way has developed into a success and standard for what a working higher educational model could look like.
Now in their 20th year, WGU, the nation’s first and largest competency-based university, has realized a vision of creating, delivering and capturing value the founding 19 governors set out to achieve. “They recognized that their system (of existing higher education) wouldn’t be an environment that would allow them to innovate or create a model of higher education that would serve the population they were seeing to reach really well,” Pulsipher tells us. “Sometimes when you have to disrupt the thing, you almost have to separate from the current model and say, if we started this all over again, how would we do it? What are the tools available to us? What information do we know about students that would change it? You have to afford someone the unbounded environment in which they can create everything new.”
Disruptive Leadership in Higher Education
Disrupt Yourself Podcast radio
Scott Pulsipher is the President of Western Governors University, a fully online institution of higher learning established 20 years ago by 19 U. S. governors.
Scott has traveled a fascinating career path to his present position; a serial disruptor who has jumped from one leadership role to the next, often acquiring needed expertise on the job, growing in his roles and scaling successive learning curves.
I asked him how being the President—essentially CEO—of the University is different than he expected. Of course he is “responsible for all aspects of the university.” The design and delivery of course offerings, the students and their outcomes, financial operations and viability; WGU is a nonprofit organization.
He talks about leadership. “A leader shouldn't underestimate the amount of time they spend specifically on motivating and inspiring the people that work at the institution you lead….We do all this to change the lives of individuals and families. I have nearly 5000 people who believe that same thing…they want it to be about changing the lives of others. What I underestimated is how important it is for me to inspire those people to continue to keep their focus on why we do what we do, even if it’s some of the more mundane tasks. Answering calls in the student support center is a very challenging job; how do you correlate that to ‘hey, I’m influencing the life of that one person.’ I think about the practices and the policies that we want to develop to make sure that we as an institution continue to attract those who want to make a difference in the world. That we recognize the value that they add as much as the importance of serving our students. That we cannot do anything for our students if we do not serve our people really well.”
Competency-Based Education, Put to the Test
Education Next online
An inside look at learning and assessment at Western Governors University
... what Western Governors is best known for is its embrace of competency-based education.
Each of its degree programs includes a list of topics to be mastered, called “domains.” For a bachelor’s degree in accounting, for example, required domains include organizational behavior, business law and ethics, quantitative analysis, information technology, marketing and communications, systems administration, and the liberal arts. Accounting students must demonstrate that they understand such things as the nature and purpose of information systems and that they have mastered skills that include information systems auditing. These competencies are determined not by the faculty alone but in consultation with employers.
The point of involving employers in the process, says Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors, is “to develop a credential that has value in the jobs that [students] are pursuing.”
WGU President Scott Pulsipher on Bringing Customer-Centric Culture to Universities
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan once said he wanted competency-based college programs like Western Governors University “to be the norm” rather than the exception. So what’s in store for WGU today?
Utah-Based Western Governors University Hits 20 Year Mark
KUER - NPR radio
Western Governors University is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The Salt Lake City-based online school enrolls nearly 82,000 students nationwide and aims to be the perfect fit for those who are giving college a second try.
WGU was founded by former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt along with 18 other governors from primarily western states, hence the name. And the idea was to reach students who had completed a little college but stopped attending.
“There were many who were left out of the system because they couldn’t access it for a variety of reasons," says WGU President Scott Pulsipher. "Whether it was proximity to a campus, whether it was affordability, whether it was time.”
WGU President: Higher Education is About Quality and Value
Huffington Post online
“Western Governors University (WGU) was created to address the needs of contemporary students. It is nonprofit and fully online, but that has never been what distinguishes WGU. Being online makes WGU more accessible and flexible, but it is competency-based education that differentiates us. WGU pioneered the use of Competency Based Education (CBE) 20 years ago, and today, we have more than 80,000 graduates and 80,000 enrolled students.” — Scott Pulsipher, President of WGU
Event Appearances (4)
How Data and Automation Humanize Student Experience Austin, Texas
ASU GSV Summit
The Potential for Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionize Higher Education Salt Lake City, Utah
Committee for Economic Development Fall Policy Conference
Reimagining Higher Education for the 21st Century Washington, D.C.
Gallup - WGU Research Event
WGU: How Innovation Delivers Better Experiences & Outcomes for Students Washington, D.C.
Selected Articles (1)
The recent release of Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby’s study of the return on investment (ROI) of online learning has precipitated a flurry of commentary and criticism. While there are real issues surrounding the methodology and conclusions of the study, most of the comments don’t address the fundamental question:
It’s not about online. It’s about quality.