Last week, we learned on this site that Matt Reed’s son had recently sincerely asked this question: “Is the University of Phoenix a good school?” I have been gratified by the response from Inside Higher Ed readers -- and from Reed himself. But much is at stake in that question, especially for those we serve at the University of Phoenix -- those long underserved by traditional institutions. And I want to answer it publicly.
Is the University of Phoenix a good school? Yes. Yes, it is. And we’re working to make it an even greater school for nontraditional students everywhere. Our students expect quality, career-relevant degree and certificate programs. We’re providing instruction with dedicated faculty that bring real-world experience to the classroom. We are online and at local campuses in more than 30 states.
I came to the University of Phoenix last year from the University of Michigan. My peers in Ann Arbor came up to me and offered congratulations when they heard the news. I was told countless times, “University of Phoenix is an important institution. I’m glad you’re going there.” And a surprising number of colleagues within the UM community came to me and told me of their own positive experience, or a family member’s, at the University of Phoenix. For example, one UM student -- the first in her family to attend college -- was pursuing a graduate degree at Michigan (which she has since completed). She told me that she never would have progressed academically had it not been for the role the University of Phoenix played in her life (she completed her bachelor’s degree here).
To be sure, the institution has its complexities and challenges. But, like all schools, especially those that serve nontraditional students, we’re continuously in a mode of evaluating, assessing and working to improve student learning outcomes and the entire student experience. In 2014, the University of Phoenix awarded more than 73,000 degrees, and we’re strongly positioned to continue playing a vital role in American higher education for decades to come.
Our institution is large and well-known, yes, but it need not continue serving as shorthand for larger debates about for-profit higher education, which are often politically motivated. Our mission is to provide access to higher education opportunities that enable students to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals, improve the performance of their organizations and provide leadership and service to their communities. The University of Phoenix has played an important role in higher education in this country by successfully serving nontraditional adult students at scale.
Over the past seven months, I have been spending an enormous amount of time meeting with and listening to the stories of our students and our dedicated adjunct faculty. The passion our faculty have for teaching, innovation and student outcomes is palpable. Similarly, our students’ dedication is apparent. They have told me time and time again, “It is hard work, but it is not impossible.” The reason they came to this school is not just to prepare for an occupation and career advancement, but to change the perspectives of their children, and to change the trajectory of their families for future generations. It is the individual stories of our students that I wish were amplified in the media. That’s unrealistic, of course, but I am committed to telling as many stories of our students, graduates, faculty and staff as possible.
I wish most of all that Reed’s son could have been with me in Pasadena last Friday when I met the families of the University of Phoenix graduates featured in these videos here -- graduates like Evelyn “Vonn” Banks, the former Command Master Chief for Naval Sea Systems Command. I spent time with Vonn last week. Here is how she answers the question: Yes, University of Phoenix is a great school. Vonn has had a groundbreaking career as the most senior ranking non-commissioned female officer in the U.S. Navy. Her success was made possible, in part, by the three degrees earned from University of Phoenix. She is working on a fourth degree – truly epitomizing her personal motto: “I am a Phoenix, and I never quit."
I could fill this Web site with stories like that of Vonn Banks, and we are nearing 1 million graduates of the University of Phoenix.
Reed’s son asked a sincere question. He deserves an answer and I have invited Reed to visit with us in Arizona. He will find a rigorous, career-focused, innovative curriculum that is adapted to how adult students learn and a unified team committed to high-touch, high-tech student support, focused on students’ learning and career outcomes.
At some point, I hope readers of Inside Higher Ed will stop and visit a local University of Phoenix campus before making up their minds. Spend time on phoenix.edu and consider taking a course online before summarily passing judgment.
I spoke recently at a general session of the American Council on Education (ACE) and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). They had convened in San Antonio to hear from national leaders. Before the general session began, the new president-elect of UPCEA, David Schejbal of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, stood to speak at the podium. He said, “We don’t typically talk to the for-profits,” which was met with good-natured laughter that I took as acceptance, agreement or, at least, understanding. Then he said, “We have a lot to learn from the University of Phoenix. I think that for-profits are not what we think they are. I’ve spent a lot of time with Tim Slottow, and his team’s focus on meeting the needs of adult students is really something we need to listen to.”
I am grateful for Schejbal. We have found similar leaders with open minds throughout the country. We are working closely together with a growing number of researchers at top-tier research universities and foundations who are eager to develop insights into how, together, we can measurably raise learning outcomes for all adult students. Our work with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Gates Foundation (where Bill Gates himself paid us a visit) and researchers at Stanford University is just the beginning of what I hope will be a rich experimental learning environment for all devoted to the needs of nontraditional students. That is, I believe, among the best ways to honor the memory and resilience of our founder, John Sperling.
Whether friend or skeptic, our doors are open to all those working to serve nontraditional students, especially your readers at Inside Higher Ed.
Tim Slottow became president of the University of Phoenix in June 2014. Before joining the university, he served as the executive vice president and chief financial officer at the University of Michigan.
With all the Super Bowl hype (and there was plenty before the game, given Deflategate), little attention has been paid to the irony of where the actual game was played in Arizona: the University of Phoenix Stadium. Yes, really.
Is there anything we can learn from the Super Bowl’s location for those of us toiling in the weeds of higher education?
The University of Phoenix, which boasts online enrollment in excess of 200,000 students at present (a decline from only several years ago when they had well more than half a million students), offers hundreds of degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Its Web site promotes a variety of tutoring and support programs, and the university has actual physical locations for classes in 39 states, although most courses are offered online.
There is one thing the University of Phoenix most assuredly does not offer: intercollegiate athletics. Why would an institution of higher learning have a stadium named after it when that institution has no athletic offerings?
So, here’s a brief quiz as to possible explanations for why the University of Phoenix agreed in 2006 to pay $154.5 million over 20 years for the right to have its name used in perpetuity on the then new stadium in Arizona. Pick a, b, c, d, or e:
b. It provides excellent ongoing marketing of the university, with its name promoted as part of the events held at the stadium, which include one of the most highly viewed sports events in the world. (Note: It’s the site of the Final Four in 2017.) Aren’t all higher education institutions investing in ways to market themselves better?
c. The stadium is big, holding up to 72,200 people with room for expansion, paralleling the university’s expansive approach to online learning that can serve thousands of students. What college is not looking to grow enrollment?
d. The construction of the stadium involved many partnerships, including with the Arizona Sports & Tourism Authority, and the University of Phoenix also just partnered with historically black colleges. Which institution is not seeking increased revenue or savings through partnering?
e. All of the above.
The answer, of course, is all of the above.
Now, for the bonus question: Who is the star high school running back who indicated he considering attending the University of Phoenix (actually, if the truth be told, he might likely want to play in its stadium for the Cardinals a year or two after he starts college)? The answer is Soso Jamabo, who is cleverly taking a swipe at the absurdity of college recruiting by conducting interviews against a backdrop containing the names of institutions he might ostensibly choose to attend -- including the University of Phoenix. By the by, the University of Phoenix tweeted that it was accepting Jamabo as a student.
Here’s a more deliberative take on all this. The very questions raised by the Super Bowl’s location are emblematic of the issues facing higher education: developing unique marketing opportunities to improve student enrollment and institutional name recognition; sorting through complex fiscal choices including strategies for developing auxiliary revenue streams; assessing the role, quantify and quality of online learning for students; addressing the challenges and cost of intercollegiate athletics; identifying partnership opportunities that improve the student experience and reduce costs or increase revenue; and determining what new construction merits the expenditure and accompanying borrowing.
University of Phoenix Stadium brings to mind the Shakespearean question, “What’s in a name?” spoken by Juliet. The answer here is this: nothing and everything.
Karen Gross is the former president of Southern Vermont College.
There is a pattern of dishonesty taking place in some of the criticism of for-profit colleges. Too frequently, opponents of the sector take advantage of students and use an individual as a “straw man” to try to prove a point about student debt and tuition.
It is an attack by anecdote. Or more precisely, attack by false and partial anecdote.
The latest example is a filing from the Education Trust on the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed “gainful employment” (GE) rule. The rule would impose strict loan default and debt-to-earnings standards on private-sector colleges that would close the door to higher education opportunities for hundreds of thousands of minority and low-income students.
In their filing, the Education Trust references by first name an anonymous student from Kaplan University, using a quote from her as firsthand evidence of someone allegedly burdened by debt because of high tuition.
We know the student’s full story -- and, not surprisingly, the allegation is untrue. The quote claims that “tuition … ate up” the student’s financial aid. In reality, Kaplan University’s average actual cost is less than most private, nonprofit colleges and many tax-supported public institutions. This student came to Kaplan with significant debt incurred elsewhere -- including a nonprofit institution whose tuition is significantly greater than ours.
It was also alleged that we “maxed out her loans.” In reality the Education Department requires institutions to allow students to borrow up to the maximum amount for which they qualify. To cover personal expenses, students can take on debt far in excess of what is needed for tuition. Under the law, we cannot limit this. Particularly in non-residential, adult-serving institutions, these dollars do not stay with us -- the funds go to the student to cover his or her living expenses. Student academic success, such as the need to repeat failed courses, will also impact total cost and debt.
Sometimes, purveyors of these testimonials disclose full names. When a group calling themselves the “Young Invincibles” took to Capitol Hill last month to talk about student debt, it brought along 28-year-old Dymond Blackmon, who said he had incurred $90,000 in debt from pursuing an associate degree. Flanked by four U.S. senators, he said he did not make enough money to pay back loans from his photography program. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the institution Blackmon attended had tuition and fees of $14,000 a year. Clearly, there’s more to the story than the tuition charged by his institution.
For most students, completing college takes a lot of work and often does not go as planned. Some students take on debt at multiple institutions, need to repeat courses extending their course of study, or borrow more than needed. These details are rarely acknowledged, and those that put the spotlight on these individuals know the schools are prohibited by law from discussing a student’s details and, to protect our students, we are loath to do so.
Student loan debt is a problem. But solving it will require more than finger-pointing.
Policy should permit schools to limit loans for a particular course of study, helping us align debt with expected earnings in the field. College can be made more affordable if student loans are managed, in part, by people who share a big stake in seeing their students succeed -- the schools in which they enroll.
Using misleading anecdotes may be a clever way to make an argument, but it doesn’t help illuminate the issue. Permitting colleges to help manage borrowing is the real issue here, and it is no straw man.