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July 5, 2007
Dear Mr. O’Donoghue and Ms. Flanagan:
I am writing to challenge the journalistic ethics and integrity of My 9 News and your I-Teaminvestigation into University of Phoenix, resulting in tonight’s 10:00 p.m. broadcast.
On June 12, after your visit to our New Jersey campus, we wrote a letter expressing grave concern about the tactics and approach employed by Ms. Flanagan. At this time, we under no uncertain terms requested the opportunity to respond to Ms. Flanagan’s allegations and asked that she promptly contact Sara Jones, who handles our media relations. This letter followed a June 8 e-mail from Ayla Dickey, vice president of public affairs for University of Phoenix, to Ms. Flanagan, offering to be of assistance and answer any questions she may have.
It was not until more than three weeks later, on July 5 at approximately 4:30 p.m. Eastern, on the very day the story was slated to air, that Mr. O’Donoghue with a one-hour deadline first contacted Sara Jones seeking University of Phoenix’s response to your story.
This is absolutely outrageous. As professional journalists, My 9 News and your I-Team have a duty to diligently seek our response to your story. Additionally, you have a duty to rely on surreptitious methods of reporting, such as the undercover methods you employed, only when traditional open methods of obtaining information fail.
Had you provided University of Phoenix more than one hour to respond and had you requested so much as an interview, you would have learned that the source for your story was not credible.
We have documented records confirming in writing that your source, Melanie Mata, acknowledged she understood what type of program she was enrolling in and that the particular program she was taking did not lead to certification. Ms. Mata’s enrollment counselor required Ms. Mata to acknowledge this act in writing given the fact that she stated she wanted to be a teacher, but wanted to sign up for a program was not the type that led to a certification.
Similarly, had University of Phoenix been given more than one hour to respond, your “investigative team” would have learned that the majority of information featured in your story was wholly inaccurate.
The Value of a Degree
Unsubstantiated Reporting: “a worthless degree”
Your reporting failed to acknowledge the difference between teacher certification requirements and overall institutional accreditation. University of Phoenix is regionally accredited, which makes its credits eligible for transfer to other regionally accredited colleges and universities (most public state colleges and universities are regionally accredited). In general, colleges must be regionally accredited in order to provide teacher credentialing programs. But teacher credentialing is controlled by state boards of education, not accrediting bodies and the regulations differ from state to state.
When students enroll in University of Phoenix’s online program to become eligible to sit for the teacher certification exam, they enroll in an Arizona program and they become eligible for an Arizona teaching credential. Many states regularly do accept the Arizona teacher certification, however some states do not, such as those you “uncovered” in your story. Other states will require Arizona certified teachers to take additional classes and sit for an exam in their state, but each state has its own requirements. Because of this issue, University of Phoenix has clear policies in place to make certain students understand that they are obtaining an Arizona-based degree and that they must find out before enrolling whether their state will accept the Arizona teaching credential or not.
The University’s online teacher education program is of very high caliber. Contrary to the reporting in this story, graduation rates in this program are in the 80th percentile, and graduates from this program are passing their Arizona teacher certification exams in the 95th percentile.These statistics may be readily verified through public sources.
Unsubstantiated Reporting: “the victim maintains that she was not told she was responsible for contacting her state board of education”
Students attending the University sign an enrollment agreement verifying their understanding of the information and requirements associated with their degree program along with their receipt of and access to the University’s catalog.
Not all of the University’s education programs lead to certification. There are many degree programs that are designed to improve the quality of the overall K-12 education environment with such specialization areas as: curriculum and instruction; administration and supervision; etc. Additionally, student enrolling in a MAEd certification program must also sign paperwork acknowledging their understanding of their obligations with respect to Arizona and their local state certification requirements.
Given the complexity of state teaching requirements, if an enrollment counselor has concerns about a potential student’s understanding regarding certification or other elements regarding the MAEd, the counselor in some cases will document their concerns for record keeping purposes.They will also require the potential student to send them an email confirming their understanding of the requirements prior to beginning the application process. Records of these conversations and emails are maintained by the University and are available to the media with a signed release from the student. With respect to the story that ran tonight, the University has such records in its possession and, on a one hour deadline, was not given the opportunity to provide them.
Unsubstantiated Reporting: “the University has one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation”
The graduation rate for all University of Phoenix students has been historically maintained between 50-60 percent, the very same averages found in traditional 4-year public colleges. While we are unsure what facts Ms. Flanagan used to make this claim, we assume she referencedthe National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS database. What she failed to mention was the graduation rate included in the IPEDS database requires that universities report only those students who had no prior college experience. These students represented less than 7% of the University’s total student population during the given reporting period, which is disclosed in our consumer information notice. University of Phoenix serves a large population of students who bring a significant level of prior college work as well as professional experience to their college courses and their graduation data is not reportable in the federal IPEDS database. Meaning, the federal database excludes 93 percent of our student population.
For-Profit Education and Tax Dollars
Unsubstantiated Reporting: “the University is getting fat on tax dollars”
University of Phoenix is the largest institution of higher learning in the U.S., so it is not surprising that its students are the recipients of large amounts of federal student financial aid – but to speculate that profits trump academic quality is myth, born out of elitist concepts of higher education. Additionally, Ms. Flanagan fails to mention that the University contributes significant tax dollars back to the state and federal governments. While public institutions cost taxpayers approximately $11,500 per year per student, the University pays back approximately $315 per year per student.
When you are serving the largest student population of any university in the nation, it is possible to find a minority of unsatisfied students. But the assertion that being for-profit means that students are not well served does not measure up to how the majority of students and alumni feel,as demonstrated by research conducted by both University of Phoenix and by other prominent sources. In a book published by the American Council on Education titled “Lessons from the Edge, For-Profit and Nontraditional Higher Education in America,” (2005) author Gary Bergmakes a strong case for the importance of for-profit higher education and his many months of research point out the difference between specialized institutions and the public 4-year colleges. To quote:
“For-profit universities lead the way in many of the critical areas where higher education needs the most work. They have led in targeting the needs of business,focusing on working adults… and in creating economical, standardized content.[They] have led in assessment methods, creating and maintaining responsive student services and innovations such as the development of customized digital textbooks at the University of Phoenix. (Now, rEsource, a web based leaning resource available to all students and faculty.) They have been leaders in distance learning. In fact, collectively they are altering the domain of higher education asa whole. Rather than simply complying with accreditation guidelines…the University of Phoenix and others have engaged in a debate about the essence of the standards. For instance, rather than be held to a notion of quality based on resources and the number of full-time faculty, they have insisted on quality as derived from stating what they intend the students to learn, and then proving that they have done what they said they’d do. ..As a result, accrediting agencies are refocusing their guidelines on self-determined institutional objectives based on a“culture of evidence” rather than the older measurements of resources and the number of full-time faculty. This is indeed a major shift in higher education.”(page 6).
In light of these facts and your failure to fairly cover this story, we request that you (1) correct your reporting and (2) admit that University of Phoenix had attempted to be in touch with you on numerous occasions, all of which were spurned until one hour before you wrapped your story.
Chief Communications Officer
Apollo Group, Inc., parent company to University of Phoenix