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With a robust partnership and commitment to bipartisanship, WGU and WGA are influencing the West and the world.

At Western Governors University (WGU), bipartisanship isn’t just a virtue that we strive for–it’s quite literally in our DNA. WGU was the brainchild of the Western Governors Association (WGA), a fiercely bipartisan group of leaders focused on policies rather than politics.

I had the opportunity to speak with Jim Ogsbury, former Executive Director of the WGA, about the history and shared values of our two organizations. In his 11 years as director, Jim helped shape WGA into one of the most bipartisan groups in the nation. He’s also been a champion for education and a trusted partner of WGU. 

“I’ve spent my entire career in and around policy and politics and there is no question that Western Governors are the most cordial, effective, collaborative, bipartisan group of leaders that I’ve ever had of the pleasure to serve,” Ogsbury told me. “No group at their level of influence and on a bipartisan basis is pursuing policy that is as meaningful and as substantive as that that’s being advanced by Western Governors.”

A Powerful Signal 

Founded in 1984, the Western Governors Association represents the governors of 19 states and three Pacific territories–from the Dakotas down to Texas and everything to the west. The governors come together to develop and adopt policies addressing the biggest challenges facing the West and the nation: natural resources, human services, economic development, international relations, and state governance.

Once these policies have been agreed upon by the Western governors, it has been the role of Jim and the WGA to establish coalitions of like-minded organizations and to testify before Congress,

“When the governors…come together and present Congress with these recommendations saying that ‘we’ve endorsed these as a bipartisan group of elected leaders, the top elected leaders of our state,’ that is a very, very powerful signal,” Jim said.

Such a powerful signal can get stuff done. During Jim’s tenure with the Association, the governors executed a multi-state agreement on charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, coordinated an attack on regional invasive species, and launched the Reimagining the Rural West initiative to revitalize and develop leadership capacity in rural communities–and those are just a few highlights.

In my humble opinion, one of the most significant achievements of the Western Governors Association has been building WGU–a revolutionary all-online, competency-based educational model–from the proverbial ground up. 

A Robust Partnership

When the governors recognized in the late 1990s that available post-secondary educational opportunities were insufficient to meet the needs of their constituents, they came together to create a new university, one that could be used by individuals seeking to upskill or to develop competencies in industries with demonstrable workforce needs.

“WGU was an absolute online pioneer, occupying that space long before everyone was occupying that space,” Jim said. I’m inclined to agree.

While WGU was established as an entity completely independent from the WGA, our organizations have maintained a consistent, symbiotic relationship over the past 25 years. 

“I think the current relationship between WGA and WGU is best described as a robust partnership, in the very best senses of that word,” Jim said. “WGU is a major sponsor of the Association, but beyond that, it provides energy to WGA programming and it contributes intellectual capital to WGA’s policy enterprise. It makes meaningful contributions to the success of Western Governors at every turn.”

“I think the current relationship between WGA and WGU is best described as a robust partnership, in the very best senses of that word.” – Jim Ogsbury

With support from WGU, the WGA has established the Western Governors Leadership Institute as an incubator for young leaders in the West. A hallmark of the institute is a leadership forum immediately preceding the WGA annual meeting, where young leaders selected from their states, tribes, and territories can engage in conversation with political leaders. At the inaugural event in 2022, 26 delegates had the opportunity to converse with current and former governors, a former presidential candidate, university presidents, and titans of industry.

The event is a perfect snapshot of the WGA and WGU’s joint commitment to improving the state of the West and the world by uplifting those who are eager to learn. 

“It was almost like a revelation when we hit on the idea of the Western Governors Leadership Institute, because that is the one thing that really excites governors and speaks to who they are as people and as professionals. They are leaders,” Jim said. 

If there is one thing that I took away from my conversation with Jim–and trust me, there are many–it would be the sheer amount of work that can be done with bipartisan support. By setting aside political differences and focusing on promoting policies that matter, the Western Governors Association has impacted not just the 19 member states and three territories, but the entire nation. I’m proud to say that the birth of WGU is among those impacts.

And that, my friends, is my Sage Advice.

Listen to Episode 7 of the Sage Advice podcast from WGU to hear more of my conversation with Jim Ogsbury, former Executive Director of the Western Governors Association.

Listen and learn more

June 9, 2023

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