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Western Governors University responds to audit that recommends they repay $712 million in federal aid

SALT LAKE CITY -- A government audit says Western Governors University didn't follow higher education laws and is recommending the school pay back more than $700 million dollars in federal financial aid.

But Western Governors University maintains they're not breaking any laws

The Office of the Inspector General says WGU needs to give back more than $712 million in Title IV funds from 2014 to 2016 based on an audit of the 2013- 2014 school year, but WGU says that is simply a matter of opinion

The audit claims the university isn't eligible when it comes to Title IV funding because of the way faculty interacts with students, and the kinds of courses students are enrolled in.

The finding involves the distinction between distance learning and correspondence courses and specifically the level of interaction between faculty and students. The OIG says a school is ineligible for Title IV programs if it offers more than 50 percent of its courses by correspondence or if 50 percent or more of its regular students were enrolled in correspondence courses.

WGU says they do school a little differently. Students enroll in majors and work with faculty in individualized programs rather than taking formal courses.

But, they say they've made sure to follow statutes and regulations, and that the Office of the Inspector General might think they're breaking the law but can't make them pay the money back

“The OIG for the Department of Education has no enforcement authority, so this audit, their recommendations and analysis, are only that,” said Scott Pulsipher, President of WGU. “That is simply what they are recommending to the Department of Education, who has final authority whatsoever as it relates to whether or not they would act on any of these recommendations.”

WGU says they are confident the Department of Education will not follow the recommendations on refunding that $712 million, and they say right now it's business as usual on campus.

"[THE OIG] opinion is that WGU is not following the provisions of regular, substantive interaction between faculty and students," Pulsipher said. "We strongly disagree with their opinion, and just because they have that opinion doesn't make it right."

WGU says they currently have 85,000 students enrolled in programs, with 90,000 graduates in the 20 years they've been in existence.

The full audit is available here.

WGU has created a page with their responses to the audit, which is available here.