Showing posts with label University of Phoenix. Show all posts
Showing posts with label University of Phoenix. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

University of Phoenix and the Ash Heap of Higher Ed History (Updated September 14, 2023)

[Editor's Note: The Higher Education Inquirer will continue to update this story as more information comes in.]

The University of Phoenix (or at least its name) may soon enter the ash heap of US higher education history--and rise again as a state-run robocollege.  But it shouldn't--at least not yet. Once hailed as the leader in affordable adult education for workers entering middle management, it is a shell of its former self--in an economy less certain for workers and consumers. 

With the school's wreckage are approximately one million people buried alive in an estimated $14B-$35B in student loan debt.  

Pattern of Fraud

As of January 2023, more than 69,000 of these student loan debtors have filed Borrower Defense to Repayment fraud claims with the US Department of Education against the University of Phoenix (UoPX). Many more could file claims when they become aware of their rights to debt relief. In the partial FOIA response below, the US Department of Education reported that 69,180 Borrower Defense claims had been made against the school.

In a recent federal case, Sweet v Cardona, most if not all of the 19,860 "denied" cases were overturned in favor of the student loan debtors.  We estimate the smaller number of fraud claims alone to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.  

Through a FOIA request, we also discovered 6,265 consumer complaints in the FTC database. In 2019, the FTC and the University of Phoenix settled a claim for $191M for deceptive employment claims.  Based on the consumer complaints, we have no reason to believe that Phoenix has changed its behavior as a bad actor. 

On May 3, 2023, six US Senators (Warren, Brown, Blumenthal, Durbin, Merkley, Hassan) called for the US Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Defense to investigate the University of Phoenix for launching a new program suggesting that it was a public university.  The letter stated that the school "has long preyed on veterans, low-income students, and students of color."

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

University of Phoenix's owners could potentially be liable for refunding the US government for the fraud. But as a state-related organization, it may be more politically difficult to claw back funds, no matter how predatory the school is.  

Purdue University Global and University of Arizona Global set a precedence in state-related organizations acquiring subprime schools (Kaplan University and Ashford University) and rebranding them as something better. Whether they are better for consumers is questionable. Phoenix will have to cut costs, largely by reducing labor. Using Indian labor (like Purdue Global) and AI could be profitable strategies.  It's likely that this deal, even if profitable, will add fuel to the growing skepticism of higher education in the US. 

University of Phoenix's Finances

Apollo Global Management and Vistria Group currently own University of Phoenix but have been trying (unsuccessfully) to unload the subprime college for more than two years. Little is publicly known about the school's finances. What is known is that UoPX gets about $800M every year from the federal government, through federal student loans, Pell Grants, GI Bill funds, and DOD Tuition Assistance.

Despite this government funding, US Department of Education data show the school's equity value for the Arizona segment declined significantly, from $361M in FY 2018 to $187M in FY 2021. 

$347M of the University of Phoenix's $518M in assets are intangible assets. Intangible assets typically include intellectual property and brand reputation. The school has $348M in liabilities.  

The University of Phoenix has been reducing expenses by cutting instructional costs, from $70M in FY 2020 to $60M in FY 2021. UoPX spends about 8 percent of its revenues on instruction.

Marketing and advertising expenses are not available, but Phoenix has been visible on the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, CBS' Big Brother, and other television events. reports that University of Phoenix spends millions of dollars each year on television ads.  On one ad alone, the ad spend from February 2023 to July 2023 was an estimated $3.5M. 

Attempts to Sell UoPX

There have been two known potential buyers for the University of Phoenix: the University of Arkansas System and the University of Idaho. In both cases, the owners required the potential buyers to keep the deal secret until the sale was imminent.  

Fear of the impending higher education enrollment cliff appears to be an important pitch to potential buyers. 

Arkansas, the first target, was in the process of making the deal, and it might have gone through if nit for the voice of one whistleblower and one outstanding investigative reporter, Debra Hale Shelton of the Arkansas Times.

In the case of Idaho, news of the potential deal was publicly noted just one day before the preliminary agreement was made with the Idaho Board of Education. Two other secret meetings were held before that.  

A number of journalists including Kevin Richert (Idaho EdNews), Laura Guido (The Idaho Press), Troy Oppie (Boise State Public Radio), and Noble Brigham (Idaho Statesman) have exposed some of the problems and potential problems with the deal.  In June, Idaho legislators began questioning the acquisition.  

More recently, the opinion editor at the Idaho Statesman argued that the deal may actually be worthwhile

Particulars about the finances are sketchy at best and misleading at worst.  The University of Phoenix is said to include $200M in cash in the deal, but they have not said how much of that sum is required by law as "restricted cash"--money the school needs if the Department of Education needs to claw back funds.  Phoenix also claims to be highly profitable, but without showing any evidence.  

What is known about the deal is that the University of Idaho will have to borrow $685M and put its (bond) credit rating at risk. The school has not identified important information how the bonds would be sold (underwriters, bond raters, date to maturity, interest rate). 

The University of Idaho has created an FAQ to answer questions about the sale, but HEI has identified a number of misleading statements about University of Phoenix's present finances (failure to report the school's equity), potential liability (cost of tens of thousands of Borrower Defense claims), and leadership (lack of background information about Chris Lynne, the President of the University of Phoenix).  These deficiencies have been reported to the University of Idaho and to the Representative Horman. 

On June 20, Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador filed a lawsuit to halt, or at least slow down the deal. 

The University of Idaho submitted a Pre-Acquisition Review from the US Department of Education, and it may take up to three months before the application is completed. 

As of September 2023, the deal is far from done.  Since this article was first published there have been a number of developments:

On September 11,  US Senators Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, and Richard Blumenthal called on University of Idaho President Green to abandon the sale.  The Senators also asked Green if he had a plan to pay for the Borrower Defense claims, noting that University of Arizona may be on the hook for thousands of claims against Ashford University (aka University of Arizona Global campus).

In November, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee of the Idaho Legislature is expected to discuss the issue again.

*The Higher Education Inquirer has made a FOIA request for more up-to-date numbers from the US Department of Education. We have also filed FOIA requests with the FTC. 

Related link: 

How University of Phoenix Failed. It's a Long Story. But It's Important for the Future of Higher Education.

The Growth of "RoboColleges" and "Robostudents"

More Transparency About the Student Debt Portfolio Is Needed: Student Debt By Institution

Borrower Defense Claims Surpass 750,000. Consumers Empowered. Subprime Colleges and Programs Threatened.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

An Email of Concern to the People of Arkansas about the University of Phoenix (Tarah Gramza)

February 26, 2023. 

Hi! My name is Tarah Gramza. Dahn Shaulis has been talking with me about the University of Phoenix/University of Arkansas situation. I offered to share my knowledge as I have quite a bit with years of experience in this mess of subprime colleges and student loan debt.  

I am the creator/administrator of a quite popular Facebook group with approximately 14,000 members. Theresa Sweet and I came together by sheer accident and became close friends. We have managed this group together for a few years now. 

Theresa started her battle with the US Department of Education (aka ED) nearly a decade ago trying to get anyone’s attention to hear her story and draw attention to the fraud being committed by these schools right under everyone’s noses. Our stories are all similar: we attended schools who promised a future full of butterflies and roses, misled quality of education, pressured enrollment, false advertised job placement, lied about costs...the list goes on. 

Following the bread crumbs

Our lawsuit started as a mission to hold the Department of Education accountable for delaying the processing of Borrower Defense to Repayment applications. These delaying actions broke ED's own rules and regulations. The last several administrations tried to change rules for their own agendas and to satisfy their paid cronies. We know for a fact many congressional leaders have been deeply invested and made millions from this for-profit schools fraud. This includes the Secretary of Education at the time, Betsy DeVos. 

The first settlement forced ED to process applications fairly within a period of time. The department made a big mistake, they decided to deny 90% of class members applications and used illegal denial letters, which ultimately stopped the settlement and sent us back to litigation/discovery. During the discovery it was uncovered that ED had internal emails showing they were intentionally not reviewing applications per the law requirement (a policy of mass denial), withheld evidence by the department on many of the main culprit schools, and knew about the fraud being committed at the highest levels. This led to additional claims by the class and now opened the department up for direct financial liability and undue harm. This led to the final settlement that sits today. 

Between the first settlement and the illegal denials and the present one, the administrations changed and Betsy DeVos quit her job. During the discovery (testimony) it was found that upper leadership under Betsy DeVos pointed their fingers directly at Betsy herself and that she directed these policies, an attempt was made to make her testify. As government always does, they protected her and their own tails in the process and she was allowed to skate by unscathed. The new administration decided it was time to start doing the right thing; the sheet was pulled back enough for everyone to see they well knew about the fraud for over a decade. 

This lawsuit also brought forward the fact that ED had not used its own rules to go after schools for recoupment costs on the taxpayers behalf and recoup funds from these executives, schools, leaders. This includes some of the leaders of major school collapses such as Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech. Sadly, the executives just jumped from one school to the next bringing their fraud with them along the way, leaving a wake of schools with damaged students. 

Putting it together

The final settlement (Sweet v Cardona) was signed and all of a sudden four schools from the list of 151 known offender schools decided to intervene on the lawsuit. They used every excuse they could to conjure up to stop this case and hold up the settlement--even though the settlement didn’t hold them accountable for the class discharged claims. The judge ultimately denied their requests leading a final settlement approval. Three of those four schools then appealed the judge for a stay,which was officially denied Friday evening. 

Why would four schools appeal a lawsuit that doesn’t involve them of which ultimately has no recoupment against them for the class?

Well- here’s why, the post class group AND any following applications will have recoupment. The department, right around the time of the announcement, had recently announced the recoupment efforts against Devry University and this terrified the schools. They knew full well they were next and that it would put them out of business and these shareholders would be left holding the bag. Now a plan needed to be put into place to try to find a way out. 

The plan

University of Phoenix is one the biggest offenders and probably one the largest schools to profit from this business model of fraud. We’ve seen evidence that much of the fraudulent activity came directly out of the University of Phoenix training manuals. They also had some of biggest lawsuits, so intervening as University of Phoenix was a bad idea. 

The well-known school lobbying group Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU) led by Jason Altmire banded together to not only bundle money from these subprime schools to stop this lawsuit, by using these four smaller less widely known, less lawsuits, as pawns in a bigger game. Jason has been known and deeply ingrained in this scandal for over 20 years, even before he was lobbying. He was an elected official voting for this for profit game. Holding up the lawsuit benefited every single school named on Exhibit C and you will see why below. 

The new rules and regulations were published a few months back with hard targeted rules that establish a line in the sand starting July 2023. These regs held harsh consequences for all schools not only into the future but also for past bad deeds. The rules also clarified and hardened the rules for information sharing (evidence) and group discharges. 

It became apparent that the shareholders and owners of University of Phoenix needed out and now. This is because the recoupment efforts follow owners. If they can sell the school, they can cash out what is left of their $1 Billion investment and run intact. Which leads to the point of this email, if Arkansas, or any other buyer decides to buy University of Phoenix they will be the target for the recoupment efforts which I estimate to be approximately $600M dollars as it stands today with the number pending recoupable borrower defense applications. If things go as expected this number could exceed $1B. The rules call for recoupment of funds and also steep consequences such as loss of title IV funds. 

Jason Altmire and his lobbying group are so desperate to prevent these rules, they are suing in Texas to prevent them from being implemented.

Why would the Governor of Arkansas pursue this deal?

The Governor of Arkansas knows full well the risks. The political side of this story is administrations. Republican administrations have been very friendly to these schools and have in the past created and changed ED rules in the schools favor and turned a blind eye to the fraud. Democrats have also been guilty of this but in today’s climate we have to think of the present state of the Republican position in student debt relief. The state of Arkansas is offered a sweet deal of a percent of profits on a private deal which they claim doesn’t cost tax payers. 

The hidden agenda by the governor is she is gambling against a change in administration that is friendlier and will either not pursue recoupment against a state owned (affiliated) school OR she is thinking the Biden administration will lose the next election in which they will push to change the rules again! This is a steep gamble as I suspect the secrets in this deal don’t offer protections to the state as presented in press briefings. If the state is signing a contract for profits, what happens if the school goes under? As you may be aware, much of these warnings have been shared with the leadership of Arkansas by many student advocate groups including our lawyers for the Sweet case, the Project on Predatory Student Lending-PPSL

Recent announcements made by the Department of Education have added an additional layer of risk for anyone purchasing University of Phoenix as ED recently announced it “may require certain individuals to assume personal liability as a condition of allowing the schools they own or operate to participate in the federal financial aid programs and likely to require an individual to assume personal liability on behalf of the institutions or groups of affiliated institutions that pose the largest financial risk to the United States. This is determined based on institutions with the most serious and significant sets of concerns.” The question becomes, who will be putting their personal assets as collateral? University of Phoenix is not only a risk, it is one the primary reasons for the need for additional protections to the tax payers.

What value would the purchase of University of Phoenix have to the state of Arkansas if it can’t have its Title IV renewed? This fact alone combined with the University of Phoenix history, should scare away even the most riskiest investor!

Now you know the big picture. I hope it helps guide your actions and I hope you are willing to write and share with the public how this dangerous gamble is being wagered against the people of the state of Arkansas. For the records, I am a Republican and my focus is to point to facts of the situation and the truth of the climate in politics leads toward the assessment I’ve given. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help where I can. I also hold a large document that provides significant evidence against all the schools but the University of Phoenix file speaks volumes and will likely expand on the depth of the fraud, if you are interested.


Tarah Gramza