Thread regarding University of Phoenix layoffs

The Slow-Motion Collapse of America’s Largest University

[While most of my higher education analysis has been statistical in nature, it’s important to look at qualitative and historical aspects of higher education. The collapse of University of Phoenix is one of those stories.]

From 1976 to the early 2000s, the University of Phoenix established itself as a leader in educational innovation for working adults.

Hundreds of the school’s campuses and learning sites dotted the American landscape, conveniently located near interstate off ramps. Phoenix turned hotel meeting rooms and retail spaces into learning centers for busy strivers.

For those who could not attend those schools, University of Phoenix created an online presence that was unsurpassed.

Phoenix’s founder John Sperling was considered a genius for bringing education to adult professionals and other nontraditional students. A former university professor and self-described enemy of the academic elite, Sperling became friends though with the political and business elite. Higher education’s billionaire was a notable friend of California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi--and he appeared on Oprah.

Like the prosperity preachers who filled American television, Sperling offered the keys to success to anyone who would listen. Instead of Jesus, though, he was selling higher education.

In 2007, the limitations of online education, the adjunctification of labor, and the University of Phoenix became more evident in a New York Times article that revealed the school’s subprime graduation rate.

Rather than improving educational quality, Phoenix and its parent company, Apollo Group, became all about the numbers. At the highest level, Apollo was shooting for a half million students, which sounded laudable. Apollo Group branched out into associate degrees, and it reached out to students outside North America.

But the truth is that the company had to cut corners to meet these numbers.

In a scheme called “The Matrix”, enrollment representatives were rewarded for meeting enrollment numbers. And with that, enrollment representatives would do almost anything to get asses in classes. Apollo Group’s CEO Todd Nelson took the school to its highest numbers. But these numbers would come at a cost. The school faced enormous pressure from federal and state agencies.

The 2010 Harkin Commission and Aaron Glantz’s investigations with the Center for Investigative Reporting a few years later showed Phoenix to be a school that would use any means necessary to make a profit. Phoenix became a joke in popular culture, skewered by comedians John Stewart and John Oliver.

[In recent years, University of Phoenix's Wikipedia page looked more like a criminal rap sheet than an institution of higher education.]

Today University of Phoenix is a shadow of its former self. Enrollment is down an estimated 80 percent from its peak. In 2016, Apollo Education Group was taken over by a much larger company known to buy failing companies and stripping them of assets, and then selling them at a profit. Along with the sale, friends of President Obama, Tony Miller and Marty Nesbitt, were brought in to make the deal seem to be an act of educational reform. But the school’s marketing strategy has been to look backward, at the deceased John Sperling, and the adult night classrooms that are all but gone.

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Post ID: @OP+UHbB7hH

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When I started working at UOPX a "key differentiator" the university touted was their small class sizes (15-20 students). Today the typical class size for entry-point, undergraduate classes is closer to 40-45 students. Soon (next month?) there will be certain classes with 70-80 students on the roster according to news from within the organization.

Meanwhile graduate level classes struggle to start with 8 students on the roster, the minimum necessary for most classes to begin in the first place.

When the university shifted focus from professional adults seeking bachelor or higher degrees to include anyone seeking an associate or higher degree (Axia College) the university ignored Daedalus' warnings about flying too high (or too low) and, like Icarus, is now plummeting into the sea as a result.

Post ID: @2cds+UHbB7hH

"Many instructors approach the challenge with good faith and then become overwhelmed by the level of work that Phoenix demands without any semblance of compensation parity."

As a current instructor, I can attest to the truth of this. It's not even (for me) about compensation. The compensation for adjuncts is not the best in the industry (I know because I teach as an adjunct at other online institutions as well as at a local traditional college and community college). My motivation for teaching has been the joy and fulfillment I get from teaching and watching students learn. With the doubling of class sizes, that motivation has been stripped away. I can barely keep up with the minimal requirements of my job, to say nothing of the additional effort I used to put in. There is no time for extras; the students are a blur. I find myself hoping they drop out and doing little to nothing to keep them in class, because each drop equals a bit of relief for me. That is a sad position for a teacher to be in, and I expect not to be teaching there much longer.

Post ID: @2vyf+UHbB7hH

The old goal by Dr. Sperling was 500,000 students by 2005 and one million by 2010. In addition, 90% of the USA population was to be within 50 or 100 miles of a physical campus. The aging of baby boomers out of the market combined with the pressure to grow Axia College became a challenge that was difficult to overcome.

It is too bad because the academic content in most courses were very good and comparable to traditional schools, but perhaps too much for some students to cover in five weeks. The undergraduate math course were remedial in nature rather than college level, but many students entering traditional community colleges and state colleges needed math and writing help.

Post ID: @1yxb+UHbB7hH

Well said article that hits the nail smack on the head. It has been in slow-motion but is likely to accelerate. Most enrollment is now online and online has been stripped of any quality that it had, which was very little. The reputation is already frayed, not merely fraying. Students that enroll now have very limited options; they either ignore the institution's reputation, are oblivious to it, or can't matriculate anywhere else. Online class sizes have doubled. Faculty are overwhelmed and policed by online Phoenix cops who penalize them if they don't post enough comments, are late with grading or give a student a grade the student finds unacceptable. Faculty are tasked with wading through eight postings per week from 30-35 students and expected to respond with a thought-provoking comment or some level of substantive feedback to students who generally post the same answers to the same question every student is asked to answer. This hardly qualifies as quality education. Class size increases can only further erode the vestiges of quality that remain. Many instructors approach the challenge with good faith and then become overwhelmed by the level of work that Phoenix demands without any semblance of compensation parity. Campuses are being phased out, morale has hit the bottom, and the learning environment is toxic and poisoned. I can't imagine teaching at the campus or online now with all of this baggage.

Post ID: @1rnp+UHbB7hH

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