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

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Robocollege Update

 


Robocolleges are a mix of for-profit and non-profit online colleges, both secular and Christian.  Their focus is on automation and reduced costs, particularly labor costs:

Instruction is delivered through automated Learning Management Systems (LMS) and online platforms, relying less on professors and more on pre-recorded lectures and automated grading. Even support staff are being replaced by chatbots.  

While some qualified individuals might be involved, educational content is often developed by large teams with varying expertise, potentially sacrificing quality for cost-effectiveness.

Marketing and advertising continue to be costly. But targeting marketing (e.g. targeting military service members and veterans, teachers, nurses, and government workers in low-income neighborhoods) can improve cost efficiency. 

Robocolleges offer degrees with a wide range of value to consumers (return on investment versus debt).  For people who need a degree (or an advanced degree) to play the game in government and medicine, these credentials may have value. 

Competency-based education and credits for life experience reduce the number of courses some students need to graduate.  Servicemembers going to Purdue Global, for example, can get an AA with as few as five college courses and a BS with as little as seven additional courses.

Cheating is probably easier for online students who are so inclined and whether these companies care is not really known.  

Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) continues to be the growth and efficiency leader, with the highest enrollment, more than 160,000 students. SNHU is also experimenting with artificial intelligence to reduce labor costs. In addition, SNHU works with Guild (aka Guild Education), which recruits workers from Walmart, Target, Waste Management, and other large employers.  

Grand Canyon (for-profit) and Liberty University (non-profit) target Christians for online credentials.  But oppressive debt is a concern with some of their programs. Social mobility for students is subpar.  

Purdue University Global and University of Arizona, Global Campus are two former for-profit colleges now owned by state universities. Information about their financial status is sketchy. Like SNHU, Purdue Global works with Guild to recruit working folks.  Purdue Global owes its online program manager. Kaplan Education, about $128 million.  Arizona Global has had financial difficulties which have affected the University of Arizona's bottom line.  

The University of Phoenix has returned to profitability by reducing instruction and student services by $100 million a year and legal costs by $50 million a year.  Consumers continue to file fraud complaints by the tens of thousands.  And debt is an enormous problem with former students.  It's not apparent whether Phoenix can maintain such enormous profits, but its future as a non-profit affiliated with the University of Idaho may reduce its tax burden and legal liabilities. 

Here are the most recent numbers from the US Department of Education College Navigator:

American Intercontinental University: 89 full-time instructors for 14,333 students.
American Public University System has 332 F/T instructors for 48,688 students.
Aspen University has 27 F/T instructors for 7,386 students.
Capella University: 180 F/T for 39,727 students.
Colorado State University Global: 40 F/T instructors for 9,565 students.
Colorado Technical University: 55 F/T instructors for 24,808 students.
Devry University online: 61 F/T instructors for 26,384 students.
Grand Canyon University has 550 F/T instructors for 101,816 students.*
Liberty University: 735 F/T for 96,709 students.*
Purdue University Global: 337 F/T instructors for 45,125 students.
South University: 41 F/T instructors for 7,707 students.
Southern New Hampshire University: 130 F/T for 164,091 students.
University of Arizona Global Campus: 122 F/T instructors for 34,190 students.
University of Maryland Global: 177 F/T instructors for 55,838 students.
University of Phoenix: 80 F/T instructors for 88,891 students.
Walden University: 235 F/T for 42,312 students.

*Most F/T faculty serve the ground campuses that profit from the online schools. 

 

Related links:


Robocolleges, Artificial Intelligence, and the Dehumanization of Higher Education (2023)

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

ED Completes Pre-Acquisition Review for University of Phoenix Deal. University of Idaho Continues Hiding Details of Transaction Fees, 43 Education "High-Risk" Bonds.

[Editor's note: This article will be updated as we receive more information.]

US Department of Education (ED) sources have told the Higher Education Inquirer that the Pre-Acquisition Review for the Idaho-University of Phoenix deal was completed in November 2023 in response to a request from the University of Phoenix in June of the same year.  

The University of Phoenix is currently owned by two powerful investment firms: Apollo Global Management and Vistria Partners. But those companies have been attempting to unload the for-profit college for more than two years. The latest potential owner is the University of Idaho's affiliate organization, Four Three Education--at an initial cost of $685 million.    

ED will not require anyone to post a Letter of Credit--despite the fact that Four Three Education currently has no financial assets and will likely have to issue high-risk bonds to acquire the University of Phoenix. 

Four Three Education, and the University of Idaho, may be responsible for compensating the Department of Education for successful Borrower Defense to Repayment (fraud) claims made by tens of thousands of consumers.  While that could amount to more than a billion dollars, the University of Idaho affiliate expects to spend much less by using aggressive legal means. 

Financing for the Phoenix project has been deliberately opaque. The University of Idaho, however, has acknowledged that it may be liable for some future losses, but only up to $10 million annually. And Idaho officials, including University of Idaho President C. Scott Green, seem undeterred by these potential problems.  

The Most Recent Court Case

A court case to determine whether the University of Idaho violated open meeting laws was completed last week.  Idaho District Judge Jason Scott ruled that the University of Idaho was not in violation for holding three secret meetings followed by a quick vote on May 18, 2023. The University of Idaho claimed that secrecy was essential for the deal to occur.

The State asserted that the Idaho Board of Education did not perform due diligence for the sale, relying on President Green and his word that this was a worthwhile deal for the University of Idaho. In turn, Green admitted he did not ask important questions about competition, for fear that he would be considered naive, and that he outbid the competition.  

As Judge Scott remarked, the wisdom of the deal was not on trial. If it had, perhaps the ruling would have been different. 

Information about the competition to buy the University of Phoenix continues to be sketchy. The University of Arkansas System rejected a deal from the University of Phoenix in April 2023, weeks before the last closed door meeting. UMass Global was mentioned in the court case, but with no evidence that they were ever a serious suitor. 

The Idaho-Phoenix Scheme

The University of Idaho spent a reported seven million dollars on consultants over two months to determine whether the deal would be profitable to the University of Idaho. But little is publicly known about how the funds were spent. Hogan Lovells, President Green's former employer, was one of the organizations involved in consulting the University of Idaho. A local law firm, Hawley Troxell was also involved.  

Idaho also created a non-profit organization, Four Three Education, to act as a firewall in the event the school loses money. The current President of the University of Phoenix, Chris Lynne, will remain in place and be a member of the Four Three Education Board. 

The University of Idaho claims that the University of Phoenix will make a $150 million annual profit but they have not produced evidence. Information about Phoenix's assets are also limited, but Idaho claims the for-profit college holds $200 million in cash. How liquid (or how restricted) the cash is has not been mentioned.

Funding for the sale will be through an initial debt of $685 million, which includes more than $100 million in transaction fees. When bond interest is included, the deal is likely to cost billions of dollars according to an industry source. In an opinion piece in the Idaho Statesman, Rod Lewis, a former attorney for Micron Technology and former president of the Idaho State Board of Education stated:

Phoenix will issue $685 million in corporate bonds anticipated to be “bb” rated (known as “high risk” or “speculative” bonds). Phoenix’s estimated debt service will be $60 million to $70 million per year. It sounds risky, and it is.

We will know more when the University of Idaho produces the bond contracts and names the bond underwriters.    

Poisoning the Public Higher Ed Well

The University of Phoenix relies heavily on obfuscation, intimidation, political lobbying, and lawsuits to reduce expenses related to fraud. Given recent data on consumer complaints about the University of Phoenix, University of Idaho officials say they are prepared for contingencies related to the tens of thousands of Borrower Defense to Repayment claims. But the school or its affiliated organizations could also be liable for claims related to questionable business practices in the present and future. 

It's too early to tell whether Idaho will profit from its acquisition. But if the sale is consummated, the University of Phoenix will join a growing list of state-affiliated and non-profit robocolleges, one that includes Purdue University Global (formerly Kaplan University) and University of Arizona Global Campus (formerly Ashford University), two schools that have not lived up to their parent company names.

Related links:

Predatory Colleges, Converted To Non-Profit, Are Failing (David Halperin, Republic Report)

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Predatory Colleges, Converted To Non-Profit, Are Failing (David Halperin, Republic Report)

[Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Republic Report.] 

About a dozen years ago, owners of some of the biggest, worst-acting for-profit colleges began concocting, with their eager, high-paid lawyers, schemes to convert their schools into non-profits. The apparent aims were to evade the heightened government regulations applied uniquely to for-profit schools in order to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse — and to escape the growing stigma that the industry’s predatory behavior had placed on for-profits.

The clever schemes have come in various colors, yet most of them potentially allowed the sharp operators to keep making big money off the schools they no longer formally owned but, one way or another, still controlled. These dubious deals, mostly blessed by servile government departments and accrediting agencies, have made a mockery of non-profit rules, and, much worse, have helped sustain another decade of predatory college abuses against students and taxpayers, resulting in the waste of billions of dollars and the ruining of the financial futures of tens of thousands of people — veterans, single moms, and others — who sought better lives through higher education.

Yet, just as the private equity owners of the University of Phoenix, historically one of the biggest for-profit schools, are now trying to execute yet another dubious version of this scheme — getting a pile of cash by unloading the school on Scott Green, the hubristic president of the University of Idaho, and potentially allowing the current, high-paid executive team to stay employed — it seems, increasingly, that many of these non-profit conversions are not just harmful to the public but also ultimately unsustainable for the operators.

Here’s what’s been happening lately:

— Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sued Grand Canyon University and its CEO, asserting that the school deceived doctoral students about the costs and course requirements of programs — and about the school’s claimed nonprofit status. The FTC also alleges that Grand Canyon engaged in deceptive and abusive telemarketing.

The FTC lawsuit follows an October announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that it is imposing a $37 million fine on Grand Canyon based on similar allegations.

Grand Canyon CEO Brian Mueller has responded to the FTC and education department investigations with a remarkable series of pronouncements suggesting that the moves against his self-proclaimed Christian university are rooted in religious or ideological bias. But, in reality, Grand Canyon’s troubles with regulators began not in the Biden administration, which has cracked down on for-profit college abuses, but under Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos, a Christian conservative who staffed her office with former for-profit college executives and did almost nothing else over four years to hold predatory colleges accountable.

Grand Canyon in 2018 had restructured itself into two entities: a non-profit college, GCU, and a for-profit company, Grand Canyon Education (GCE), that gets paid to provide a range of services to the school. Even though the IRS already had declared GCU a legitimate non-profit, the DeVos Department of Education in 2019 rejected the school’s bid for preferred non-profit status under federal education rules, concluding that “the primary purpose” of the Grand Canyon conversion to non-profit was “to drive shareholder value for GCE with GCU as its captive client — potentially in perpetuity.” The DeVos team couldn’t help but notice that Brian Mueller is the well-paid head not only of the non-profit school but also of the for-profit company has been getting about 95 percent of the non-profit college’s revenue.

Together, the Department and FTC actions call into question not only the integrity of Grand Canyon’s recruiting and academic operations, but also its effort to be accepted as non-profit.

— Last month, the Department of Education took another step to hold accountable the non-profit Center for Excellence in Higher Education, whose schools, the largest of which was Independence University, shut down in 2021. The Department demanded $23 million from CEHE to pay for “closed-school discharges” — reimbursement for cancellation of federal student loan debts that former students had owed the government. The Department in July already had cancelled $130 million in federal loan debt from former CEHE students, citing school misconduct; the Department could potentially seek to recoup all those funds from CEHE.

The ultra-wealthy Ayn Rand disciple Carl Barney owned the schools until 2012, when he sold them at a hefty valuation to CEHE, a small non-profit that he controlled. Seemingly sleepy career officials at the Department of Education approved the transaction in the Obama years, but public scrutiny raised doubts about the appropriateness of the deal.

Like Grand Canyon, CEHE’s abuses were by no means limited to the terms of the non-profit conversion. In 2020, a Colorado court found the company had engaged in systematic deceptive practices. Barney’s schools, the court concluded after an extensive trial, used a detailed playbook to manipulate vulnerable students into enrolling in high-priced, low-quality programs; directed admissions representatives to “enroll every student,” regardless of whether the student would likely graduate; greatly overstated starting salaries that graduates could earn; and falsely inflated graduation rates. CEHE has been pursuing an appeal, but in 2021, the accrediting agency for the schools withdrew approval, citing performance failures, and the Department of Education soon after tightened the screws on federal aid, precipitating the schools’ closure.

CEHE is a mess. It no longer runs any schools or gets any federal aid; instead its functions seem to be limited to trying to get former students to pay back the sketchy, high-interest private loans the school peddled, and engaging in legal disputes with the federal government; these include a pending fraud lawsuit filed by a CEHE whistleblower and joined by the Justice Department, an investigation of CEHE’s private loans by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and a lawsuit for $500 million brought by CEHE against the government alleging the schools were “a victim” of a campaign by the Department of Education “in coordination with ideological confederates… to cripple and close as many private career colleges as possible.” The Department also has suspended CEHE CEO Eric Juhlin from federal contracting.

— Another of the worst predatory for-profit schools is Ashford University, whose corporate owner Zovio pursued several different schemes for a non-profit conversion before finally selling the college to the University of Arizona, whose president, Robert Robbins, had been pressured by state regents to expand its online offerings.

Zovio’s scheme was to hide behind the prestige and political power of a big state university and yet keep getting for itself hundreds of millions off the school, now called University of Arizona Global Campus, through a long-term contract to provide recruiting, academic, and other services.

But that plan was thwarted after a California judge, in 2022, found Zovio liable for blatant deceptions of Ashford students and imposed $22 million in penalties. By law, the California judgment should compel the Department of Education to terminate federal aid to the school. Although Zovio pursued an appeal, it was discredited, bowed out of its contract to serve UAGC, transferred its infrastructure to the University of Arizona, and shut down.

But, with Zovio out of the picture, what was obvious to some even before the deal closed seems to have played out: Most of what Arizona had purchased, most of what made money, was not some supercharged high tech education platform but instead a predatory playbook and a staff trained to execute it. UAGC may not be able to pay its bills even if it keeps up with Ashford’s old predatory practices, but it almost certainly can’t do so if it tries to go straight. In November, President Robbins admitted that the University of Arizona’s overall financial situation is fragile, with cash reserves below minimum levels. Robbins said the school had “overinvested,” and school document revealed that one such exertion was the deal to buy Ashford, which “added $265.5 million in operating costs…”

Arizona’s financial woes from the Ashford deal may grow. Former Ashford students say they were ripped off and, as a result, have applied to have their federal student loans cancelled under a provision of law called borrower defense to repayment. In August, the U.S. Department of Education said it would cancel $72 million worth of loans because of Ashford’s deceptions. The Department also said it would use its legal powers to recoup those funds from Ashford’s owner, meaning the University of Arizona. UA says in response it had “absolutely no involvement in, and is not directly or indirectly responsible for, the actions of Ashford and its parent company” and will be “assessing its options.” But, reading the school’s agreement with Zovio, Arizona may be out of luck on that score.

— In contrast to Zovio’s fate, Graham Holdings has not been forced out of the 2017 deal in which it sold predatory for-profit Kaplan University to an Indiana state institution, Purdue University. Graham continues to hold a contract to provide a wide range of services to the school, now called Purdue University Global — a deal that Purdue is locked into for a 30-year term.

The Graham/Kaplan schools repeatedly faced law enforcement problems for predatory abuses against students before the sale. But the schools did better exercising political influence: The company’s head, Donald Graham, is a hyper-connected Washington insider; the business, long run by his family, was previously called The Washington Post Company, before it sold the newspaper to Jeff Bezos. Graham exploited his power and connections in DC to become the most effective lobbyist pressuring the Obama administration and Congress not to push too hard on for-profit college accountability; his protege Jeffrey Zients held key positions in the Obama White House, as did Anita Dunn, whom, once she left government, Graham hired to tell his schools’ supposedly compelling story to lawmakers. Dunn and Zients are now perhaps the two most powerful staffers in the Biden White House.

Having utilized his tight connections to key Democrats in the Obama years, Graham then took advantage of the lax regulatory environment under Republicans Trump and DeVos to do his troubling non-profit conversion deal with another top Republican politico, then-Purdue president Mitch Daniels, a former Indiana governor and White House official, who may have been dazzled by Graham’s big money ties, including his status as an ex-Facebook board member, and seen Kaplan as the road to a high-tech future.

But this effort to put state college lipstick on a for-profit pig may be failing as well. As Forbes noted last month, Graham Holdings‘ November filing with the SEC says Purdue Global owes the company $127.8 million — perhaps more than the school, structured as a non-profit associated with Purdue University, would be able to pay. Cutting costs at the school in order to pay Graham Holdings’ fees would likely mean lower-quality educational programs. Boosting enrollment for lower-quality programs would likely mean accelerating the deceptive recruiting practices, targeted at low-income Americans, that sullied Kaplan in the first place. Doing all of that at a time when the Biden administration, to its great credit, is working diligently to hold predatory schools accountable would be risky.

Don Graham’s best shot at continuing to make millions off Purdue Global may be for his long-time allies in the Biden administration to fail this year, and give way again to a president Trump, who once ran his own scam real estate school and likely would identify with Graham’s sense of victimhood about the persecutions of great for-profit educators.

— Finally, there is ultra-wealthy Arthur Keiser and his Keiser University, whose 2011 conversion from for-profit to non-profit was comparable to Carl Barney and CEHE: a sale of the for-profit school owned by Keiser, at a remarkably high valuation, to a non-profit controlled by Keiser. In addition to the inflated loan payments Keiser has since received from the non-profit, there are a range of businesses owned by Keiser that sell various services to the non-profit. Even worse, as we have documented, there is a highly questionable mingling of resources and personnel between the non-profit Keiser University and Southeastern College, another for-profit school owned by Arthur Keiser and his wife.

Keiser University seems to have come the closest to thriving after a shady non-profit conversion, but its troubles are now growing.

Arthur Keiser has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with his expensive lawyers trying, but so far failing, to block a landmark court settlement aimed at cancelling the student loan debt of hundreds of thousands of ex-students who have filed borrower defense claims, saying they were deceived by their schools. His complaint is that Keiser University was, for purposes of the deal, unfairly placed by the U.S. Department of Education on a list of presumptively bad-acting colleges when, he insists, “There’s no evidence of misconduct.”

But Keiser’s claim of innocence is just another deception.

Like all the other schools with troubling conversions, Keiser University also has repeatedly gotten in trouble with law enforcement, and settled claims, including with then-Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and with the U.S. Justice Department, over allegations of deceptive and unlawful recruiting practices. And recent staff members have told us about predatory behavior still happening at the school, including recruiting of low-income people seemingly unprepared for college programs and of people with insufficient English language skills to understand the course work.

Keiser University also has been in trouble recently with three different accreditors of specific school programs, who have placed the school on warning, probation, or show cause status due to concerns about matters including program effectiveness and certification exam passage rates.

The non-profit conversion also has, finally, gotten Keiser University in trouble; the school admitted under congressional questioning in 2021 that the IRS imposed a penalty on the school for improperly steering profits to Arthur Keiser by entering into leases above fair market value with Keiser-related for-profit companies. Senior Democrats in Congress, including senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have called on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Keiser’s schools, which have received billions in taxpayer-funded student financial aid.

And, in November 2022, the Department determined that Keiser University’s accreditor, SACS, was out of compliance with numerous federal regulations and directed it to provide more information regarding its oversight of Keiser University and the school conversion to non-profit.

As part of the Department of Education’s regular oversight process for accreditors, I recently wrote to the Department, for a second time, urging it to hold SACS accountable unless it takes steps to address the conversion deal and predatory practices at Keiser’s schools. I hope that will happen, and that the Department itself will take steps to protect students by imposing conditions on Keiser’s future receipt of federal aid.

— Conversion from for-profit to non-profit has not prevented serious financial and / or legal problems at all of the schools we’ve discussed. In recent years, government regulators, accreditors, courts, and students have seen through the conversions, recognizing that predatory for-profit schools — with greedy owners, deceptive practices, poor value educational programs, and low return on student and taxpayer investment — remain predatory schools even when dressed up as non-profit colleges or big state universities. (The conversion of another huge predatory chain, EDMC, to non-profit also has been a disaster.)

Yet somehow the president of the University of Idaho, Scott Green, continues to insist he will be serving his school, and students, by acquiring, through an affiliated new non-profit, the giant for-profit University of Phoenix from huge private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Green remains determined to buy and run Phoenix despite Phoenix’s long and continuing record of abuses and law enforcement problems, despite the enormous potential liability Idaho might assume for debt cancellation for former Phoenix students, and despite opposition from many leaders in his own state, as well as advocates for students across the country. If Green — whose team keeps claiming, falsely, that Phoenix is under honest new management — and the Idaho state board of education can’t look objectively at the evidence that past conversions have been a moral disgrace, and a disaster for school operators, as well as students and taxpayers, then others in his state, the University of Idaho’s accreditor, and the U.S. Department of Education, should act to block the deal.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

University of Phoenix's Sinking Ship: Who is Chris Lynne?

Who is Chris Lynne, the latest President of the University of Phoenix?  The school has posted a short, glowing biography that provides some information: four years as the CFO of University of Phoenix, former President of HotChalk and former CFO of Northcentral University.  A Wikipedia article was created for him earlier this year but was recently deleted.

People in the edtech industry say they know little about Chris Lynne, at least not publicly. Of three experts who did respond off the record, no one said anything positive. One mentioned problems at HotChalk and another, problems at Northcentral. The third expert claimed to know nothing, despite decades in the business.

Lynne has worked for a number of companies with issues: accounting firm Arthur Andersen (corruption scandal with Enron led to its closing in 2002), Vice-President at Education Management Corporation (predatory enrollment, financial failure) from 2003-2010, CFO at Northcentral University (financial troubles/US Department of Education Heightened Cash Monitoring) from 2010-2014, President at HotChalk (federal violations with Concordia contract), and CFO at the University of Phoenix from 2018-2022. While no one should be found guilty by their associations, this string of questionable employers does not look good.

Information about Chris Lynne from the WayBack machine.

In June 2022, the University of Phoenix made Chris Lynne the interim President of the school, replacing George Burnett. At the helm for less than six months, Burnett resigned amid an inquiry by the US Department of Education about his work at the now defunct Westwood College. Burnett and Lynne worked together several years at Northcentral University, another subprime college. 

Work at the University of Phoenix 

Chris Lynne was Phoenix's CFO beginning in November 2018. Despite almost a billion dollars government funding per year, US Department of Education data show the school's equity for the Arizona segment declined significantly, from $361M in FY 2018 to $187M in FY 2021. No other data after that are available.

In June 2022, Lynne was named the interim President of the University of Phoenix.  Six months later, he was appointed to that position permanently. Little if anything is known about the hiring process that occurred, and who else was considered for the position.

The truth is, without looking at all the books and matching them with expert observations, we have no idea what Chris Lynne has done as the CFO and now President of the University of Phoenix. The numbers we have from the US Department of Education show a school in decline in terms of enrollment and revenues, shored up by closing campuses and reducing instruction costs.  We do not know what the University of Phoenix has done to maintain its infrastructure, including its computer hardware and software. 

If we could take a close look at all the financial records, examine the school's infrastructure, and interview workers, we would know better how Lynne has handled his work at the school and what shape the University of Phoenix is in for the long run as it is sold to the folks in Idaho.

Related articles:

University of Phoenix and the Ash Heap of Higher Ed History

Fraud Claims Against University of Phoenix Continue to Mount

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

New University of Phoenix Head Ran College That Closed After Fraud Suit (David Halperin)

The 17 Questions The Education Dept. Asked A University President Before He Resigned