University of Phoenix Responds to FRONTLINE

University of Phoenix Responds to FRONTLINE’s “College, Inc.,” as Aired on PBS May 4, 2010

We created this site to share our official response to the FRONTLINE documentary and to address the misinformation and false allegations made by the program’s producers.

Most importantly, we want to share a simple truth that the FRONTLINE documentary overlooked: University of Phoenix is committed to doing the right thing for our students. We are dedicated to making high-quality, practical and accessible educational offerings available to working learners, and to make sure we attract and enroll only those students who have a reasonable chance of success at University of Phoenix.

In fact, within in the last six months alone, we have taken a number of proactive steps to do more than is mandated by current regulatory requirements, including the national roll-out of a free, three-week orientation program that gives students critical insights into the realities of undertaking a university degree program before they enroll or make a financial commitment to their education, and completely eliminating enrollment results as a component of employee’s compensation.

Since our founding, we have been committed to serving working adults who desire a college education and are willing to put in the effort it takes to earn a degree. We are equally committed to ensuring prospective students understand just how much effort it takes to succeed at University of Phoenix and the associated costs. Additionally, we strive to play a leadership role in continuously improving and transparently reporting the learning outcomes and achievements of our students.

The facts about the claims made on FRONTLINE regarding University of Phoenix



For-profit institutions are under-regulated

University of Phoenix is one of the most heavily regulated institutions in the country. Since our inception, we have participated in over 30 accreditation visits by regional accrediting bodies, 35 evaluations by state education agencies and undergone 10 administrative reviews by U.S. Department of Education. At our last Higher Learning Commission accreditation visit, University of Phoenix was awarded a 10-year grant of accreditation – the longest period of time for which an institution can receive approval without an interim review visit. Additionally, University of Phoenix is pleased to have again successfully addressed the findings reported by the Department of Education in our most recent program review. We take seriously our responsibilities in properly administering the Title IV program at University of Phoenix, and we are committed to maintaining rigorous internal controls to help ensure compliance with our obligations to the Department.



For-profit institutions lack quality standards

University of Phoenix offers a comprehensive approach to higher education, with more than 100 degree programs at the associate through doctoral levels. Our programs are held to the same rigorous accreditation standards as public four-year colleges and universities, in addition to the myriad of regulatory standards for a market-driven institution. 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 as rigorous for University of Phoenix as it is for the other major colleges and universities accredited by the North Central Association. University of Phoenix is also approved by higher education regulating agencies or bodies in 43 states, with additional program-specific state approvals as required. State approvals include rigorous academic standards, and site reviews by teams of higher education experts are often required.



For-profit institutions’ cost of tuition is approximately five to six times that of community colleges

It is important to note that while public institutions are subsidized by taxpayers and represent a hefty portion of a state’s annual budget, for-profit institutions such as University of Phoenix cost taxpayers substantially less than public and non-profit institutions. Our tuition is in the mid-range nationally for private universities, and our textbook and material costs are dramatically lower than average due to our innovations in making them available in electronic format.



Students of for-profit institutions struggle with excessive debt

University of Phoenix promotes responsible borrowing practices and is committed to enhancing financial literacy and reducing student debt. In fact, student debt loads at the University are within national averages compared to both public and private, non-profit four-year colleges and universities. Our students (graduating between July 2007 and June 2008) average in loans between $14,200 for associate degrees and $25,221 for bachelor’s degrees compared to the national average of $13,041-29,793 (or a mean of $23,200) as reported by the Institute for College Access and Success’ December 2009 report, Student Debt and the Class of 2008. University of Phoenix promotes responsible borrowing practices and is committed to enhancing financial literacy and reducing student debt. We recently introduced a financial literacy program and a set of tools to help students better understand the direct and indirect costs of their education, including a user-friendly financial aid calculator that helps students better manage debt levels. Since launching these tools, the number of students who take out the maximum loan amount has dropped by approximately 30 percent. Additionally, we have dedicated resources and established partnerships with student loan servicers to communicate early and often with students to help them understand their rights and responsibilities regarding student loan repayment.



Enrollment counselors at for-profit institutions are incentivized to enroll anyone

University of Phoenix is committed to providing access to a quality education, while better identifying and enrolling only those students who have a reasonable chance of success in our rigorous degree programs. As of September 1, 2010 University of Phoenix completely eliminated enrollment results as a component of employee’s compensation.



For-profit institutions’ marketing spend greatly exceeds investments in faculty

University of Phoenix spends almost twice as much on instructional costs and services than we do on sales and marketing. It is important to note, however, that any measured speculation about our marketing spend should be put into context with our size and scope. University of Phoenix is the largest institution of higher learning in the U.S., serving more than 430,000 students with 100 degree programs offered online and on-campus at more than 100 locations in the U.S. Therefore, our marketing is national, versus local in scope.

Timeline of interaction between FRONTLINE and University of Phoenix

November 19, 2009

Martin Smith contacts University of Phoenix and provides a treatment of the proposed FRONTLINE report on higher education, describing the documentary as taking a look at “how well America serves ‘non-traditional’ students.” Specifically, the treatment states, “While community colleges are long established and offer a broad range of classes at low cost, they are also earning a reputation for being stagnant institutions, unable to respond to or meet the basic needs of their students. Despite a philosophy of open access to all, classes are often unavailable, schedules can be inflexible and buildings and facilities worn and in disrepair. For-profit universities, though reaching a far smaller population, are the most dynamic sector of higher education. But they too have been beset – fairly or unfairly – by their own controversies.” Mr. Smith has an estimated shooting schedule for interviews in January and February of 2010, with March and April dedicated to editing of the documentary.

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December 2, 2009


University of Phoenix proposes to FRONTLINE a half-day of several on-camera interviews with University leadership, as well as shooting of footage at University of Phoenix facilities in Phoenix, Arizona in late January or early February. FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith responds that he is “disappointed that a December visit can’t happen,” and fails to propose alternative dates for a shoot.

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December 7, 2009

FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith informs University of Phoenix that he will be in Phoenix on December 15. The University responds that unfortunately, a representative will not be able to meet with Mr. Smith on that date. The University once again requests confirmation for an on-camera session in late January or early February.

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December 8, 2009

The FRONTLINE production team deliberately circumvents the University and secures approximately six hours of unauthorized footage and audio of University employees involved in a joint University of Phoenix/CareerBuilder career fair in Chicago, Illinois. The production team gains access to the event and to University employees by approaching CareerBuilder rather than the University for entry.

December 9, 2009

Martin Smith provides possible dates for a January shoot to the University, making no mention of the Chicago career fair. University of Phoenix confronts Mr. Smith on his production team’s actions.

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December 9, 2009

Mr. Smith responds that the production team felt they were not given immediate access, and “moved forward.”

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January 26, 2010

After deliberate and careful consideration, the University informs FRONTLINE that it will decline on-camera involvement in the documentary. The University offers to provide a written statement and requests the opportunity to respond in writing to any outstanding questions or allegations involving the University. FRONTLINE responds calling the University’s decision a “rude surprise.”

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February 1, 2010

FRONTLINE once again circumvents the University and contacts a local Learning Center in Yuma, Arizona requesting an interview about “how University of Phoenix delivers education and about unemployment in Yuma.” The University confronts FRONTLINE, noting that in “respectfully declining on-camera involvement in your forthcoming documentary for FRONTLINE, we are declining on behalf of all of our campuses and learning centers around the country.”

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March 31, 2010

The University sends a letter to Martin Smith to follow-up on the original request to allow the University the opportunity to respond in writing to outstanding questions or allegations in the documentary. According to FRONTLINE’s published guidelines on journalistic styles and practices, specific to “fairness,” the program’s producers are obligated to “give individuals or entities who are the subject of attack the opportunity to respond to those attacks.” The University requests the opportunity to respond in writing with ample time to any and all allegations in advance of the documentary’s May airdate. The University also requests disclosure of the funding source for the documentary.

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April 6, 2010

Martin Smith responds to the University’s March 31, 2010 letter, reiterating the production team’s desire for an on-camera interview with a University official. Mr. Smith does not answer the question about the documentary’s funding source and says he is referring the issue to WGBH, which runs the FRONTLINE series.

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April 12, 2010

Apollo Education Group’s General Counsel sends a letter to FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith and executive producer David Fanning again requesting the opportunity to respond in writing to any outstanding questions or allegations involving the University and with ample time to respond in advance of the documentary’s May air date.

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April 14, 2010

FRONTLINE responds to the University, acknowledging the University’s right to provide a written statement. FRONTLINE also provides the University with a list of 14 questions, but again fails to give the University the opportunity to respond to any allegations.

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Jerry Blake

Bachelor of Science in Business/Management

“The education has already helped me perform as a manager. It has developed my people skills, critical thinking skills and ability to identify and solve problems. I’ve already applied many of the management techniques I learned to my job.”

Monica Thompson

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

“My University of Phoenix education has improved my leadership, communication and critical thinking skills. It’s given me the ability to recognize when changes need to be made and the knowledge to make those changes.”

Mike Casey

Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership

“The thing I like about my program is that it’s a practitioner-based degree. This degree program is definitely for business people who want to make an impact on their organization. We’re expected to take the knowledge we learn here and apply it to our organizations.”

Brandi Burg

Associate of Arts in Business

 “What I have learned in my classes, I am already using in my job. It’s made me more knowledgeable on important subjects such as international business, cultural diversity, quality control, project management and information technology.”

In late November 2009, RAIN Media, the production company founded and headed by Martin Smith, contacted University of Phoenix claiming the company was producing a news documentary for FRONTLINE exploring nontraditional students and the institutions that serve them. While RAIN Media pointed out that the documentary would focus on community colleges as well as the for-profit sector, the production team insisted that the documentary would be fair and balanced, and most importantly, without preconceived bias.

University of Phoenix is committed to transparency and accountability and welcomes honest, balanced media coverage, so we initially considered the offer presented by FRONTLINE. We did have several discussions with the production team regarding on-camera interviews for the documentary, based on the understanding that it would be fair and factual and that we could trust the producers to accurately represent our point of view. We were surprised and disappointed, therefore, to learn that the production team had secretly and deliberately gone around us to collect several hours of unauthorized footage of University employees.

FRONTLINE’s deception was a disappointment to the University, especially after the University had worked with the production team to begin making arrangements for on-camera interviews. FRONTLINE’s failure to act in an honest and open manner made it clear to us that regardless of the facts, the story would be fundamentally unbalanced, hostile and unfair.

University of Phoenix on numerous occasions over a two-month period requested the opportunity to respond in writing to any outstanding questions or allegations involving the University. According to FRONTLINE’s published guidelines on journalistic styles and practices, the program's producers are obligated to “give individuals or entities who are the subject of attack the opportunity to respond to those attacks.” Three weeks before the program aired, FRONTLINE sent a series of questions to the University, which we answered.

University of Phoenix provides educational options and opportunities, which otherwise would not exist for our students, and at a time when the traditional system of higher education is proving increasingly untenable and inaccessible. Given the one-sided nature of this documentary, we encourage our students to share their story and provide their perspective on a University of Phoenix education by visiting FRONTLINE's discussion forum. In the end, the most honest judges of our academic quality are our more than 450,000 students who have chosen to pursue their degrees and improve their lives with a University of Phoenix education.