CHEYENNE — An unaccredited online university based in Evanston was expected to stop doing business in Wyoming on Thursday, according to the Wyoming Department of Education.
Rutherford University has been in trouble with the state since last year for allegedly not proving that its academics were coming from within Wyoming and not elsewhere. The department also accused Rutherford of not disclosing who was teaching its courses.
Last winter, the Legislature passed a law requiring private, postsecondary schools to either have federally recognized accreditation or at least be serious candidates for it.
The law doesn't go into effect until July 1. But department officials said the law, along with Rutherford's problems with the department, prompted the school to move on.
Department and Rutherford officials agreed that the school would close its Evanston office at midnight Thursday and would remove any reference to a Wyoming license and address from its Web site and publications effective today.
The school's Web site continued to list an Evanston address and phone number Thursday.
The school's president, according to the site, is William I. Weston, an associate dean at Florida Coastal School of Law. Its chancellor is said to be Abdul S. Hassam, a fellow and diplomate of the American Board of Medical Psychotherapists and Psychodiagnosticians.
State Superintendent Jim McBride said Rutherford's departure shows that Wyoming's new accreditation law is working even before going into effect. "We again applaud our lawmakers, and we will continue to monitor each school's progress toward full accreditation," he said in a statement.
So far, no other schools have said they plan to leave Wyoming because of the new accreditation law, according to Fred Hansen, the department's finance director and private school licensing chief.
But George Gollin, a University of Illinois physics professor and an expert on distance education, predicted that most of Wyoming's eight or so remaining private, mostly online universities would shut down or move on.
"If they are serious, they will invest in faculty, staff and resources to become accredited," he said. "But that takes a serious commitment toward quality education, and I would expect that many of them would not be willing to undertake that level of effort."
The new law gives schools five years to become accredited.
A critic of Wyoming's existing private school licensing law, Gollin praised the one about to go into effect. Alabama and Mississippi, he said, will probably now have the nation's weakest regulations for postsecondary education.