Journalism in the Public Interest

University of Phoenix Responds to ProPublica/Marketplace Investigation

University of Phoenix (Flickr User: moqub)The University of Phoenix has responded (PDF) to our recent story on its enrollment practices, calling it a "nothing more than a series of anecdotes." We reported the story with Amy Scott of Marketplace and you can hear the resulting radio stories here and here.

Our story reported that University of Phoenix students who enter associate degree programs graduate at a lower rate than students at comparable for-profit institutions. The story incorrectly said that 37 percent of Phoenix students who begin two-year programs ultimately graduate. We have corrected our story to reflect the accurate figure, which according to the university's annual academic report (PDF) is 27 percent.

As the story on Marketplace reported, that's less than half the 60 percent rate of graduation achieved by students seeking two-year degrees at for-profit institutions.

The University of Phoenix noted that its graduation rates for more advanced degrees are higher -- 38 percent for students seeking bachelor degrees and 60 percent for graduate courses. We didn't quote those numbers because we were trying to compare apples to apples: University of Phoenix's two-year rates against those of the for-profit sector as a whole.

The university's assertion that the ProPublica stories were "anecdotes" did not address its recent announcement that it was setting aside $80 million to settle a lawsuit brought by two former employees who say they were improperly pressured to sign up students. It also did not refer to the $10 million University of Phoenix paid to the Department of Education in 2004 to resolve a federal examination of its recruiting practices.

Investigators reported that Phoenix was illegally pressuring recruiters to sign up unqualified students, and creating elaborate systems to "avoid detection by the Department."

Finally, the University of Phoenix said that ProPublica did not take up its offer to call a recruiter at random. That is not correct. We did so and the person who handled our inquiry provided accurate information about courses. The recruiter, however, also sent an e-mail to us noting that she was not "in any way, shape or form on commission" and that the enrollment of additional students "does NOT benefit me in any way other than the satisfaction of knowing that people are getting the education that they deserve!"

The university acknowledged to us that recruitment success does figure in its employees' compensation. "It is entirely appropriate and lawful for schools to pay recruiters in part based upon how well they perform their job," the university wrote in its press release responding to the ProPublica/Marketplace stories.

Joshua Coving

Nov. 5, 2009, 9:59 p.m.

I read this article and was at first disheartened by what was stated as I am a University of Phoenix Alumni.  I then took the time to do some additional research.  I read the rebuttal from University of Phoenix and then did some investigation of my own through the Department of Education and various unbiased websites that provide statistics and facts on various universities and have drawn the conclusion that this article was written with an agenda.  I don’t know what that agenda might be but there is clearly a bias to the article as so many facts were omitted.  I am appalled that an institution as respectable as American Public Media would broadcast and then publish an article of such low quality.  Over many years I have listened to their program and found small inconsistencies that they have often corrected during future programs but I am truly ashamed of their choice to broadcast this malicious attempt to undermine a potentially nation changing trend.

In addition, I would like to say that we as logical beings should look at all the facts not just some of them.  A small glimpse of evidence does not tell the entire story.  This reporter has gleaned information that suited her agenda and discarded facts that were not supportive.  In my experience that is called slander and this slander has done more than damage the reputation of an institution it has defamed every graduate that has attended University of Phoenix.

I concur with Joshua…the writer seems to cherry-pick her info…and I have a few opinions about the original article.

The U of P admissions counselors were good salespeople, plain and simple.  These students are upset because they did not do their research…this is a for-profit institution, and whether we like it or not, these are “salespeople”.  And obviously good ones!

The students upset about credits transferring…well, check with the school before you take the classes!  If I were to take classes at school “x” with the goal of transferring them to school “y”, I would first check with school “y” to make sure the credits would transfer.  The counselors were truthful…both schools are regionally accredited, some responsibility should go back to the students! 

The question about the loan…that student had to sign a master promissary note before she could accept a loan.  She knew full well she was accepting a loan, not a grant…if she signed her name to something she did not understand, again…whose fault is this?  I find it highly unlikely a counselor would commit forgery for one student to earn a “bonus”!!!

As for these loans being the new “subprime”...that is ridiculous.  No, these students can not pay back their loans now…because they are STUDENTS!  The goal is to go to school so they can earn better jobs and…pay their bills!  Turn down the hysteria, okay?

I used to work for a competitor of U of P, so me sticking up for them is almost painful.  But suffice to say, one could find 12 unhappy clients from any company and write such a piece of yellow journalism.  This is somewhat of a microcosm of our society…look out the window for blame, when we should be looking in the mirror.  We need to accept responsibility when we make mistakes, not simply blame others!

Omaha, NE

I too agree with Joshua, and am especially impressed that he did not simply roll over and accept the author’s statements as fact. Probably something he learned at University of Phoenix.

I am disappointed in the author’s incorrect assertion that “the University of Phoenix said that ProPublica did not take up its offer to call a recruiter at random.” In case you didn’t take the time to actually read the rebuttal, what UofP actually said was “if calls were made, they did not support ProPublica’s story and were cast aside.”

ProPublica, I question your journalistic integrity based on this story. The author here has selected several facts and statements out of context and has molded them to form an article that smears this institution, without seeking out all of theh facts.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

For-Profit Schools

For-profit colleges are under fire for their recruiting practices, and the graduation and loan default rates of their students.

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