University of Phoenix Responds to Reason Magazine

Katherine Mangu-Ward’s July story, “Education for profit: why is everyone flaming the University of Phoenix?,” professes to examine traditional academia’s contempt for University of Phoenix and its for-profit model. After wading through Ms. Mangu-Ward’s litany of just about every criticism leveled against University of Phoenix in recent history - with little regard for truth or accuracy - I was left with the impression that she shares the disdain of the academic traditionalists she purports to expose.

I would expect a free market proponent such as Reason to embrace the concept of for-profit education rather than suggest University of Phoenix is “the educational equivalent of a subprime mortgage.” What seems entirely lost on Ms. Mangu-Ward is the fact that University of Phoenix is not trying to be a conventional four-year college or university. It is one of a handful of institutions, private or public, completely devoted to providing access to higher education for nontraditional students - students who may delay enrollment, work full-time, are financially independent, have dependents, or are single parents.

As recently noted by Kevin A. Hassett, a senior fellow and director of economic policy studies at American Enterprise Institute, “The institutions that serve low-income individuals best may well be the for-profit universities, such as the University of Phoenix.” With minorities comprising more than 40 percent of its student population, University of Phoenix is among the top degree producers in the country for minority students, including African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.

For examples of Ms. Mangu-Ward’s reckless journalism, one may start with her repeated claims of low graduation rates. University of Phoenix’s completion rates are comparable to conventional four-year colleges and universities, averaging between 40-60 percent. And, in a comparison of students who enter college with “risk factors” that often contribute toward their dropping out - factors that are common among nontraditional students - University of Phoenix’s rates of completion for a bachelor’s degree are substantially higher than for public institutions overall. What is equally impressive is the fact that students often enter University of Phoenix with lower scores in the general education areas as compared to more exclusive institutions, but perform at levels comparable to seniors at other institutions by the time they graduate. All of this information may be verified in the university’s newly published Annual Academic Report, which is readily available on its website.

Ms. Mangu-Ward goes on to allege that University of Phoenix has never applied for accreditation of its MBA program because “it’s not eligible.” She may be interested to know that the MBA program is accredited by the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, as is, for example, the State University of New York (SUNY). ACBSP is one of only two accrediting organizations for business programs recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a national voice for accreditation and quality assurance to the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Education. Ms. Mangu-Ward prefers to cite and give credence only to the other, which seems to better fit her argument, but ignores the larger facts.

Ms. Mangu-Ward references that the university in its early years was denied accreditation in California. This is simply untrue. University of Phoenix is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association, one of six regional accrediting bodies considered to be the gold standard of accreditation. Regional accreditation is every bit as rigorous for University of Phoenix as it is for the other colleges and universities accredited by the North Central Association, which include Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame, University of Michigan, Ohio State University and University of Arizona, to name a few.

Ms. Mangu-Ward also cites dated complaints by the New Jersey Education Association, but fails to reference the fact that University of Phoenix was granted licensure approval in the state, which is known to have among the highest quality standards in the nation. By repeatedly ignoring the facts in favor of unfounded hyperbole, she denigrates the value of degrees earned by its nontraditional students and, frankly, denigrates the students themselves.

She frequently references David Breneman, a noted expert in higher education, as a critic of the university, yet fails to note that he serves as a non-paid advisory board member of University of Phoenix’s newly formed National Research Center - an unusual role for a “critic.”

Ms. Mangu-Ward references a “comprehensive takedown” of University of Phoenix by the New York Times, where incidentally she previously worked as a researcher, yet the story was largely discredited following its publication, leading This Week in Education to ask, “Did the NYT Get it Wrong on the University of Phoenix?”

Finally, she implies that University of Phoenix preys on the underprivileged who attend the school primarily through government issued Pell grants designed for low-income students, yet only about a quarter of the university’s students received Pell grants during the last year - not an uncommon percentage for any public college or university offering Associates through Doctoral programs.

It is nonsensical to examine University of Phoenix through the lens of traditional academia. It is not Yale, nor is it trying to be. University of Phoenix is designed to accommodate busy adults through flexible schedules, a combination of online and conveniently located on-campus courses, and education technology.

According to the Making Opportunity Affordable initiative, the U.S. will need 16 million more Americans to earn degrees by 2025 in order to remain competitive with other leading developed nations, representing a 37 percent increase in productivity per year, as estimated by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Conventional institutions cannot accomplish this on their own. If our nation is going to remain competitive, we must raise more working adults to higher skill levels. University of Phoenix is an important part of the process.

Dr. William J. Pepicello
University of Phoenix

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