Saturday, November 9, 2019

Unnamed Ashford University Suitor Joining Purdue University Global in "Race to the Bottom"

Who would buy Ashford University, an online school that has lost more than 50 percent of its students and is downsizing key faculty and academic administrators?

[Video above:  Dr. Stephen Brewer has reported on the downsizing of key faculty at Ashford and the suspension of the University Senate.]

Having seen so many crazy deals in subprime higher ed, from the ECMC shotgun marriage with Corinthian Colleges to the Kaplan-Purdue deal, anything seems possible.

"A bunch of state schools want online at scale at any cost."...(It's a) race to the bottom. They see their students heading to ASU, SNHU, or the for-profits, and figure if they can get to scale, they will have the time and resources to fix the programs."--anonymous online college expert
Tyton Partners managing director Trace Urdan has suggested that UMass or George Mason might buy Ashford from its parent company, Zovio, but I'm not sure either of those schools would take the risk. In my estimation, Zovio does not have the assets, such as cash on hand, for a safe conversion over the long run. And this lack of assets would make the buyer school more responsible for finances during the conversion.

In my opinion, the most logical buyer would be a school that is WASC accredited (Ashford's current accreditor), large enough to handle the risk, and either does not have a strong online presence or wants to expand its presence. It would also need a president/CEO strong enough and a board and faculty compliant or weak enough to take the bait.

It's possible that a hedge fund or other for-profit firm could create a non-profit specifically for the new school.

In the meantime, Dr. Brewer, is asking for accountability and justice for Ashford University students and professors.  After working at the school for a decade, he said that the situation had changed for the worse, "restricting creativity, inhibiting instruction, and demoralizing otherwise talented, motivated, and forward-thinking educators."

For any state university willing to scale up their online presence, be warned. The Kaplan-Purdue University Global deal is not working out, and Purdue bought Purdue Global for $1 and $50 million in free advertising.

Other subprime deals, such as the EDMC-Dream Center deal (Art Institutes, Argosy, South University), Adtalem-Cogswell (DeVry University), and Apollo Group-Apollo Global Management (University of Phoenix) appear to have panned out poorly. But that may not stop someone in the big business of higher ed from taking the risk.

Related article: There’s a Right Way to Convert to a Nonprofit. Ashford University Isn’t Following It (Bob Shireman, The Century Foundation)

Related article: Restructuring and Layoffs at Ashford (Lindsay McKenzie, Inside Higher Education)

Related article: The Next Purdue-Kaplan Deal? (Lindsay McKenzie, Inside Higher Education)

Related article: Early Troubles In The Purdue, Kaplan Marriage (Derek Newton, Forbes)

Related article: For-Profit Bridgepoint Says Its Colleges Will Become Non-Profit, But It Won’t (David Halperin, Republic Report)

State Colleges Seduced By For-Profit, Online Education (David Halperin, Republic Report)