With the snip of virtual scissors, leaders of the Western Governors University on Wednesday cut a virtual ribbon to mark the opening of the virtual university's door.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer and WGU officials launched the competency-based, degree granting, virtual university in San Jose, the site of the organization's quarterly meeting. There are no plans to link up with California's virtual university, Leavitt said."It's one small click for mankind, one giant leap for distance learning everywhere," said Leavitt in the event broadcast over a teleconference.

The WGU is the brainchild of Leavitt and Romer, who is serving his final year as governor.

"In my 12 years as governor, I've never run across an idea as big as the one wrapped up in Western Governors University," Romer said.

WGU is a cooperative between 25 colleges and universities in 17 Western states, Guam and several businesses.

Utah State University has 10 graduate-level courses listed in the WGU's inaugural catalog of 194 classes. USU, a veteran in distance education, is the only state institution in Utah to participate in the WGU pilot.

Headquartered in Salt Lake City and Denver, the WGU enables learners worldwide to enroll in classes offered via the Internet, video tapes and correspondence courses delivered through the mail.

A visit to the WGU Web site (www.wgu.edu.) revealed some of the classes offered through the catalog were filled or had already started. Classes offered by USU, for instance, started on Monday. Students have until Sept. 17 to enroll in USU's courses, however.

Tuition is set by the participating institutions, but WGU charges a broker fee of $30 per course.

WGU's competency-based assessments distinguish it from other institutions that offer distance learning opportunities, said Jeff Livingston, WGU's chief executive officer.

That means a student could enroll in a course on Wednesday and receive a degree as soon as he passes the required competency screening. In fact, students can receive a degree from the university by passing the test without even taking a course.

WGU is still working toward its accreditation, having received eligibility status from the Inter-regional Accrediting Committee. The virtual university will now seek candidacy status, Livingston said.

Sylvan Learning Systems contributed $250,000 in testing assessment and funds to become the 12th member on the WGU national advisory board.

Officials also announced that Novell Inc. would be the first corporate provider to list its courses on the WGU catalog.