A Unique President for a Unique University
Scott Pulsipher isn’t a typical university president — but Western Governors isn’t a typical university.
Pulsipher doesn’t have a Ph.D. or a long list of accolades in academia. What he does have, however, is a strong resume focused on technology, customer service and business leadership.
“My hiring itself gives you an idea of how unique WGU is,” Pulsipher says. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind would’ve imagined me as a candidate for the president of the University of Utah or Brigham Young University or something like that, but WGU is different.”
Western Governors University is unique because it focuses on student-centered education that’s affordable, accessible and competency-based. The nonprofit school, founded by 19 governors in 1997, uses technology to give each student a customized online learning experience.
“We focus on students, in particular those who aren’t served by the traditional model of higher education,” Pulsipher says. “We believe our institution can adapt to every unique individual as opposed to a standard model where individuals succeed or fail.”
For Pulsipher, who has built e-commerce businesses throughout his career, the opportunity to lead the technology-based university was an ideal career move.
“Given how technology is powering WGU’s innovative models, it felt like a great fit for me,” Pulsipher says. “I also believed in the overall mission to change the lives of individuals. That aligned with my own personal desire to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Fascinated by Technology
Pulsipher has a bachelor’s degree in management from BYU and a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School. After getting his MBA, Pulsipher joined a startup company where he helped brick-and-mortar businesses take their sales online.
“When I completed business school, it was the beginning of the heyday of technology,” Pulsipher says. “How technology drives innovation was something I found very compelling.”
Pulsipher went on to work at Amazon where he started its webstore business, a platform that helps companies operate e-commerce businesses.
“In the four years I was there, we went from the launch of a brand-new product to selling it across four countries,” Pulsipher says. “It was fascinating to see how quickly it grew.”
Knowing how to scale a business and manage tremendous growth helps Pulsipher as president of WGU. Since he took the job in 2016, enrollment has nearly doubled. Even so, WGU continues providing individualized experiences despite tens of thousands of additional students.
“We endeavor to ensure that every student feels the whole of WGU is designed exclusively for them,” Pulsipher says.
Of course, Pulsipher doesn’t meet the needs of approximately 120,000 students on his own. He relies on the 6,000 WGU faculty members and employees to do that. He believes his primary job is to motivate and inspire them to achieve the shared vision of serving WGU students.
“To be a strong leader, you have to always be seeking honest and sincere feedback,” Pulsipher says. “You have to show you are taking it to heart and that you can change. That personal development is absolutely critical to being an effective leader.”