CHEYENNE - An online university that at one point had thousands of students and was one of the biggest names in distance education is about to close.
Warren National University - formerly known as Kennedy-Western University - says it will close March 31 because it was denied candidacy for accreditation. Wyoming passed a law in 2006 requiring universities and colleges to either be accredited or be candidates for accreditation to operate in the state.
The Wyoming Department of Education revoked the Cheyenne-based school's state registration last month, according to Mary Kay Hill, the department's administrative director.
Hill said Warren National has appealed that decision, but apparently only to try to remain open for a little while longer - not to stay in business indefinitely.
"If they wanted to stay open and operating and enrolling students somehow through the appeal process, they could do that," Hill said. "This is, from the students' standpoint, a better arrangement."
She said any students left in the lurch would need to work with the school to get refunds.
"We can't make them give those students refunds. All of that's outside our ability," she said.
The school, which operated out of a small office in downtown Cheyenne, announced in August that it had suspended admissions because of economic uncertainty. A phone message left with Warren National seeking comment wasn't returned Monday.
Warren National had been seeking accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. North Central has accredited a handful of online schools, including University of Phoenix. North Central officials didn't return a phone message seeking comment.
Warren National said in a statement on its Web site that North Central turned the school down for accreditation candidacy following an October site visit.
"No academic work will be accepted after the last day of instruction. However, those students who complete their academic program requirements by the last day of instruction will be eligible to graduate," the statement said.
The school began as Kennedy-Western University in the mid-1970s. Kennedy-Western was based in Agoura Hills, Calif., and heavily advertised its distance learning programs in national newspapers and magazines, according to John Bear, author of the "Bear's Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning."
Bear, of El Cerrito, Calif., said Kennedy-Western had good-looking brochures and handouts.
"Nothing about their educational model was either admirable or innovative," Bear added.
In 2004, Kennedy-Western was the focus of an investigation by the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Committee staffer Claudia Gelzer testified that she enrolled in a Kennedy-Western hazardous waste management course and only was required to take an open-book, multiple-choice test with 100 questions.
"Instead of structured interaction between professors and fellow students in a classroom, including homework, papers and a series of exams, Kennedy-Western requires students to pass one open-book, multiple-choice test for each class," Gelzer testified.
That same year, Kennedy-Western sued Oregon over a state law that prohibited Oregon residents from listing a degree from unaccredited schools on their resumes. Oregon agreed to allow such degrees to be listed as long as the resumes also include a disclaimer saying the school isn't accredited.
Alan Contreras, administrator of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, said the agreement wasn't much of a capitulation on Oregon's part.
"From our point of view, requiring that someone put a disclaimer of accreditation onto any use of a degree is fine because it has an effect of warning people what the degree really is," Contreras said.
Kennedy-Western consolidated its offices in Cheyenne and changed its name to Warren National - after Wyoming's first governor, Frances E. Warren - effective July 1, 2007.
"They're smart people in a marketing sense," Bear said of the name change. "Once the bad publicity reaches some tipping point, it's a liability and you need to try to do something else."