Showing posts sorted by relevance for query borrower defense. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query borrower defense. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, March 16, 2023

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

The Higher Education Inquirer has posted a number of articles about student loan debt. In 2023, the student loan mess has reached epic proportions. Not only has the US Federal Student Aid debt portfolio reached more than $1.6 Trillion, we learned that $674 Billion was estimated to be unrecoverable. 

In California, the US District Court in Sweet v Cardona agreed to a $6 Billion settlement between student debtors and the US Department of Education. 

In Texas, a group representing for-profit colleges has sued the US Department of Education for their actions in settling Borrower Defense claims. 

And across the US, about 40 million student debtors and their families are awaiting a decision from the US Supreme Court—a decision that will not likely favor the debtors.

Borrower Defense, Subprime Colleges, Subprime Programs

Borrower Defense to Repayment claims are claims by student loan debtors that their school misled them or engaged in other misconduct in violation of certain state laws. The Department of Education may discharge all or some of the student loan debt and hold the school and its owners responsible. 

As of January 2023, there are more than three quarters of a million Borrower Defense claims against schools. And each month, about 16,000 new claims are added.  Evidence from the Sweet v Cardona case revealed that only about 35 workers were responsible for processing hundreds of thousands of claims. Those claims have been disproportionately made against a number of for-profit colleges and formerly for-profit colleges, what we call “subprime colleges.”   

Some of these subprime schools have closed (Everest College, ITT Tech, and Westwood College for example), some remain in business as for-profit colleges (like University of Phoenix and Colorado Tech), some have changed names and become covert for-profit colleges or robocolleges (like Purdue University Global, University of Arizona Global Campus, and the Art Institutes), and some schools act act like subprime colleges regardless of tax status. This includes low-return on investment programs at several US robocolleges and overly expensive graduate programs offered by 2U, an online program manager for elite colleges.  

In the Sweet v Cardona case, more than 200,000 student borrowers are expecting to receive full debt relief after years of struggling.  A Facebook group Borrower Defense-Sweet vs. Cardona currently has more than 14,000 members. 

Named plaintiffs Theresa Sweet (L) and Alicia Davis (R) outside the federal district court in San Francisco on November 6, 2022, three days before the final approval hearing in Sweet v Cardona (Image credit: Ashley Pizzuti)

Transparency and Accountability 

The US Department of Education keeps an accounting of Borrower Defense claims, but only publishes the aggregate numbers, not institutional numbers. Those institutional numbers do make a difference in promoting transparency and accountability for the largest bad actors. So why does the Department of Education not publish those institutional numbers?
The National Student Legal Defense Network submitted a FOIA (22-01683F) to the US Department of Education (ED) in January 2022 asking just for that information. And what HEI has discovered is that just a small number of schools garnered the lion's share of the Borrower Defense claims. To get a digital copy of that information, please email us for a free download.

Related links:

Borrower Defense-Sweet vs Cardona (Facebook private group)  

Project on Predatory Student Lending

Sweet v. Cardona Victory (Matter of Life and Debt podcast)

I Went on Strike to Cancel My Student Debt and Won. Every Debtor Deserves the Same. (Ann Bowers)

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

The Growth of "RoboColleges" and "Robostudents"

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.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Fraud Claims Against University of Phoenix Continue to Mount

The Higher Education Inquirer received a FOIA response today from the US Department of Education stating that 73,740 consumer fraud claims have been filed against the University of Phoenix. These claims have been made through the Department of Education's Borrower Defense to Repayment program.

The Sweet v Cardona lawsuit, concluded earlier in 2023, allowed for about 19,000 claims to be settled immediately--in favor of student debtors and against the University of Phoenix. Another 15,000 or so cases are supposed to be expedited as a result of the federal ruling.  

23-02373-F Final Response

We estimate that the potential liability of these immediate claims to be $200M-$600M with another $500M-$1.5B for the remaining cases. The higher estimates are based on the median federal loan debt among borrowers who completed their undergraduate degree ($32,421) and a study by Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis that indicated University of Phoenix debtors, on average, paid off almost nothing of their principal. The authors also estimated that total student loan debt from more than a million University of Phoenix debtors was $35B. 

The Department of Education has not presented any estimates on the total debt by University of Phoenix students or its costs to the US government.  

Thousands of new cases continue to be filed. From January 2015 through January 1, 2022, there were 32,040 Borrower Defense claims made against the University of Phoenix. An additional 41,700 claims were filed between 2022 and August 2023. 

Idaho Sale

University of Phoenix's current owners are Apollo Global Management and Vistria Group, who have been trying to unload the online robocollege for years. The University of Idaho has been the most recent target, but the sale is far from being consummated.  The entire deal is expected to cost $685M. Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador has filed a lawsuit to stop or at least slow down the acquisition. And members of the Idaho Legislature continue to have questions.

In order to shield itself from liability the University of Idaho created a non-profit organization called 43 Education. But the state university may be responsible if the non-profit fails to make enough money to repay the bondholders of the new non-profit. 

The liability of these Borrower Defense claims to the current or future owners of the University of Phoenix seems possible in light of a recent statement by Department of Education Undersecretary James Kvaal. Kvaal said the University of Arizona Global Campus may be liable for the misdeeds of Ashford University (UAGC's former name). The University of Arizona purchased Ashford in 2020 for one dollar. 

Related articles:

Feds Cancel Loans for 2,300 Students Scammed by Ashford U. So Why Does the School Still Get Tax Dollars? (David Halperin)

University of Phoenix and the Ash Heap of Higher Ed History

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

The Growth of "RoboColleges" and "Robostudents"

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


Friday, February 10, 2023

People's Rally for Student Debt Cancellation to be held outside Supreme Court, February 28, 2023

[Update: This event will be livestreamed at

Sign up for the People's Rally for Student Debt Cancellation to be held outside the US Supreme Court, Tuesday morning, February 28, 2023.  And please share this event with people in your network. 

The Supreme Court case involves the constitutionality of President Biden's order to cancel more than $400 billion in student loan debt, that according to the NY Fed would provide a disproportionate amount of relief to low and middle-income families

Supporters of the People's Rally include the Debt Collective, NAACP, National Urban League, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, SEIU, the National Consumer Law Center, Young Invincibles, and Move On. Senator Elizabeth Warren will be one of the speakers. 

While there is no substitute for People on the ground, folks can also attend online.  

Before the hearing, the People are invited to use the #CancelItSCOTUS! hashtag and flood Twitter with personal and shared stories of why the cancellation is so vital. Access the toolkit to join the Twitterstorm on 2/28 at 9-11am.

Currently, there are about 45 million Americans carrying student loan debt. Based on our interpretation of the 2022 Financial Student Aid Annual Report, about 40 percent of the federal student loan debt portfolio ($674 Billion of $1.7 Trillion) is unrecoverable.* 

Meanwhile, student loan debt collectors like Maximus receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the US government while sometimes using unethical and predatory business practices. 

Students who attended subprime schools or who had low financial value majors have been hardest hit. And the debt takes its toll on millions of citizens, their families, and their communities--and reduces their opportunities to live the American Dream. 

About 200,000 student debtors who were defrauded by subprime schools are also facing a legal battle in the 9th Circuit Court to have their debt forgiven. Hundreds of thousands more have filed Borrower Defense to Repayment claims and are awaiting for decisions that can take several years, due to  understaffing and an enormous backlog at the US Department of Education.


So far, ED has only approved Borrower Defense to Repayment claims from a handful of closed schools, and it appears that victims of fraud from other subprime schools, like the University of Phoenix, have received blanket denials.  

Pushing back against the debtors, Republican lawmakers are calling for mandatory loan repayments to restart.  

Stay tuned to this post for more information.  #strikedebt 

 *We have asked the US Department of Education press team for a comment, but they have not responded, which is often the case.

Related link: I Went on Strike to Cancel My Student Debt and Won. Every Debtor Deserves the Same. (Ann Bowers*) 

Related link: Assessing the Relative Progressivity of the Biden Administration’s Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Proposal (NY Fed)

Related link:  Federal Student Aid FY 2022 Annual Report 

Related link: Sweet v Cardona (Borrower Defense to Repayment) 

Related link: Maximus, Student Loan Debt, and the Poverty Industrial Complex 

Related link: Borrower Defense to Repayment Loan Forgiveness Data

Monday, April 3, 2023

Higher Education FOIA Requests to US Department of Education

The Higher Education Inquirer has made a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the US Department of Education.  Here's our current list.  



The Higher Education Inquirer is requesting copies of the current contracts between the US Department of Education and Maximus (including but not limited to subsidiaries such as AidVantage). If this is not possible we would like the reported dollar amount for each contract. This request is part of a larger effort to assess the student loan debt portfolio. (Date Range for Record Search: From 01/01/2010 To 04/03/2023)


The Higher Education Inquirer is requesting the dollar amount of student loan funds issued to for-profit colleges each year from 1972 to 2021.  We will accept interim or partial data.  (Date Range for Record Search: From 01/01/1973 To 04/03/2022)

The Higher Education Inquirer is requesting an estimate of the number of student loans in the student loan portfolio that originated (1) before 1978, (2) before 1983, (3) before 1988, and (4) before 1993.  This is part of a larger effort to understand the estimated $674B in unrecoverable student loan debt.   (Date Range for Record Search: From 01/01/2023 To 03/28/2023)

The Higher Education Inquirer is requesting a count of the number of Borrower Defense to Repayment claims against South University and the Art Institutes, in the Consumer Engagement Management System (CEMS) up to January 1, 2023.  We would also like to know if their parent company, Education Principle Foundation (EPF), is listed as the owner of both schools in the CEMS computer database.   (Date Range for Record Search: From 01/01/2023 To 03/22/2023)

The Higher Education Inquirer is requesting a list of all the variables/categories in the Consumer Engagement Management System (CEMS).  CEMS is mentioned in FOIA 22-01683F filed by the National Student Legal Defense Network.   (Date Range for Record Search: From 01/01/2023 To 03/16/2023)

We are requesting an accounting of US Department of Education Borrower Defense to Repayment (BD) claims against the University of Phoenix.  Specifically, we are asking for the (1) number of BD claims, (2) the number processed, and (3) the number approved.  The date range is from February 20, 2016 to January 26, 2023. If there is a reasonable way to estimate the total dollar amount in a timely manner, we would also like that.  This request is similar to FOIA request 22-03203-F, and is a result of discovering that the University of Arkansas System has been in negotiations to acquire University of Phoenix through a nonprofit organization.   (Date Range for Record Search: From 02/20/2016 To 01/26/2023)
Related links:


Monday, September 25, 2023

Art Institutes Close. Students May Be Eligible for Student Loan Forgiveness.

The Art Institutes (Ai) is closing its doors this Friday, September 30. Ai has locations in Miami and Tampa (FL), Atlanta (GA), Austin and Houston (TX), and Virginia Beach (VA). About 2000 students are affected.  The Art Institutes website provides closed school information.

The Art Institutes chain had a storied history, starting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1921 and growing to 50 locations by 2010. Its boom was the result of intensive profit-making in the higher education business in the 1990s and early 2000s. Goldman Sachs was a key contributor to its explosive growth.

Ai's decade-long decline was part of a wave of for-profit colleges that faced increased federal scrutiny for low graduation rates, high levels of student loan debt, and declining enrollment. Unlike Corinthian Colleges (2015), ITT Tech (2016), Westwood College (2016), and Virginia College (2018), the Art Institutes survived with government assistance--but with less than ten campuses. 

Art Institute Students 

Students from the Art Institutes may transfer to other schools, but many of their credits may not be accepted by other institutions. Consumers should also be extremely wary of the schools they plan transferring to.  

Students would normally be allowed to have their student loans forgiven through a process called Closed School Discharge. But that avenue for remedy has been paused. Present and former students, however, may be able to have their student loan debt relieved through Borrower Defense to Repayment if they can prove that they were defrauded. 

Borrower Defense-Sweet vs Cardona is a Facebook space for people who have already succeeded in getting their student loan money returned to them and others working on claims. Borrower Defense-Sweet vs Cardona has more than 14,000 members. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

New Data Show Nearly a Million University of Phoenix Debtors Owe $21.6 Billion Dollars

The Higher Education Inquirer has just received a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response from the US Department of Education, stating that about 971,000 current student loan debtors who have attended the University of Phoenix have accumulated an estimated $21.6B in debt. The FOIA is Department of Education FOIA 23-02912-F. These debt numbers are consistent with a previous HEI analysis

We have been unable to learn whether this accumulated debt includes the hundreds of millions in debt that has already been forgiven--and that its present and future owners may be liable for. In 2023, we reported that approximately 73,000 debtors from the University of Phoenix had filed borrower defense fraud claims, and that more than 19,000 cases were granted immediate relief in the Sweet v Cardona settlement.

Through another FOIA request, we also discovered 6,265 consumer complaints in the Federal Trade Commission database made after its current owners took over. In 2019, the FTC and the University of Phoenix settled a claim for $191M for deceptive employment claims. It would appear that Phoenix has not done enough to clean up its act.  

The Higher Education Inquirer has been working for more than six years to get data about the school's noncompliance with the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance (TA) program, where servicemembers have been systematically preyed upon--and where Trump officials and their surrogates worked to cover up malfeasance by subprime schools--including the University of Phoenix. We hope to report on this topic later.  

The University of Phoenix is presently owned by Apollo Global Management and Vistria Group, who have been unsuccessfully trying to sell the school for at least three years. Previous potential suitors, held to secrecy, have included Tuskegee University, UMass Global, and the University of Arkansas System

Apollo Global Management is currently negotiating with the State of Idaho, which would incur $685M in debt to acquire the school. State officials are wary of the deal, and those with strong principles are unlikely to approve. But it's possible that other politicians may change their minds: if they or their families are properly compensated, directly or indirectly, for taking the risks to their reputations and careers. 

Related links:

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Higher Education Inquirer Selected Archive (2016-2023)

In order to streamline the Higher Education Inquirer, we have removed the HEI archive from the right panel of the blog; information that could only be seen in the non-mobile format.   

The HEI archive has included a list of important books and other sources, articles on academic labor, worker movements, and labor actions, student loan debt, debt forgiveness, borrower defense to repayment and student loan asset-backed securities, robocolleges, online program managers, lead generators, and the edtech meltdown, enrollment trends at for-profit colleges, community colleges, and small public and private universities, layoffs and closings of public and private institutions, consumer awareness and organizational transparency and accountability, neoliberalism, neo-conservativism, neo-fascism and structural racism in higher education, and strategic corporate research.  

HEI Resources  
Rutgers University Workers Waging Historic Strike For Economic Justice (Hank Kalet)Borrower Defense Claims Surpass 750,000. Consumers Empowered. Subprime Colleges and Programs Threatened.I Went on Strike to Cancel My Student Debt and Won. Every Debtor Deserves the Same. (Ann Bowers)
Erica Gallagher Speaks Out About 2U's Shady Practices at Department of Education Virtual Listening Meeting
An Email of Concern to the People of Arkansas about the University of Phoenix (Tarah Gramza)
University of California Academic Workers Strike for Economic Justice
The Power of Recognizing Higher Ed Faculty as Working-Class (Helena Worthen)
More Transparency About the Student Debt Portfolio Is Needed: Student Debt By Institution
Is Your Private College Financially Healthy? (Gary Stocker)
The College Dream is Over (Gary Roth)
"Edugrift": Observations of a Subprime College Lead Generator (by J.D. Suenram)
The Tragedy of Human Capital Theory in Higher Education (Glen McGhee)
Let's all pretend we couldn't see it coming (US Working Class Depression)
A preliminary list of private colleges at risk
The Growth of Robocolleges and Robostudents
A Letter to the US Department of Education and Student Loan Servicers on Behalf of Student X (Heidi Weber)
The Higher Education Assembly Line
College Meltdown Expands to Elite Universities
The Slow-Motion Collapse of America’s Largest University
What happens when Big 10 college grads think college is bullsh*t?
Coronavirus and the College Meltdown
Academic Capitalism and the next phase of the College Meltdown
When College Choice is a Fraud
Charlie Kirk's Turning Point Empire Takes Advantage of Failing Federal Agencies As Right-Wing Assault on Division I College Campuses Continues
Navient and the Zombie SLABS Meltdown (Bill Harrington)
College Meltdown at a Turning Point
Charting the College Meltdown
Colleges Are Outsourcing Their Teaching Mission to For-Profit Companies. Is That A Good Thing? (Richard Fossey)
Rebuilding the Purpose of the GI Bill (Garrett Fitzgerald)
Paying the Poorly Educated (Jack Metzger)
Forecasting the US College Meltdown
College Meltdown 2.0
State Universities and the College Meltdown
"20-20": Many US States Have Seen Enrollment Drops of More Than 20 Percent (Glen McGhee and Dahn Shaulis)
Visual Documentation of the College Meltdown Needed

Monday, April 10, 2023

EdTech Meltdown

The Silicon Valley tech downturn has been creating reverberations in other parts of the economy and in other areas of the US.

Edtech, a small subset of the tech industry that overlaps with higher education, is facing major headwinds as skepticism about higher education and the economy grows.  Even two industry insiders, Noodle CEO John Katzman and Kaplan executive Brandon Busteed have been critical of the short-term thinking and questionable outcomes of edtech. Katzman has called some companies in the space "more adtech than edtech," implying that some do little more than marketing and advertising for colleges and universities.     

Ultimately, it's US consumers who are feeling the greatest pain as participants in online education--a mode of instruction that for millions of people may have more risks than benefits--within an increasingly dysfunctional economy that produces expensive education and fewer good jobs.   

Significant problems that were observed in large subprime colleges like University of Phoenix, Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech, DeVry University, Colorado Tech, and the Art Institutes more than a dozen years ago have resurfaced in edtech.  And other problems unique to edtech have emerged. 

Chegg is an edtech company based in Santa Clara, California, and provides homework help, online tutoring, and other student services.  The company's value grew more than 300 percent in 2020, during the Covid pandemic, but has faced headwinds for the last two years. This includes allegations that  Chegg enables students to cheat on homework and other assignments. Derek Newton has chronicled this problem in the substack The Cheat Sheet.

[Chegg shares grew in 2020 during the Covid pandemic. Source: Seeking Alpha] 

Coursera is a publicly traded MOOC based in Mountain View California.  Shares started trading in April 2021.  The company has under-performed as a profit making enterprise. Massive Open Online Courses were once seen as a wave of the future in adult education but their popularity has waned. 

[Coursera has underperformed since its IPO in April 2021.  Source: Seeking Alpha]

2U (based in Lanham, MD) and Guild Education (based in Denver) and are two edtech companies based outside of Silicon Valley. 

2U is a publicly traded Online Program Manager (OPM).  The company services major universities such as the University of Southern California and University of North Carolina with support for some of their online degree programs. 2U has received an enormous amount of funding from Cathie Wood, a major Silicon Valley investor, and has continued to receive support despite a long record of financial losses.  

Some 2U investors have grown tired of persistent losses--and it has shown in the declining share price. The company also faces increased scrutiny in DC for recruiting consumers unable to recoup the cost of education for high-priced masters degrees in areas such as social work.  2U acquired edX, the Harvard-MIT MOOC in 2021 and its profitability remains to be seen.  

In 2023, 2U sued the US Department of Education for attempting to require more transparency between OPMs and their clients.  This strategy is similar to the defensive strategy that subprime colleges have used to stop gainful employment regulations, and more recently, borrower defense to repayment rules.  


 [2U shares have dropped more than 90 percent over the last 5 years. Source: Seeking Alpha]

Guild Education is a privately held corporation that grew to an estimated $4.4B evaluation in a few years. Guild serves businesses by administering online education benefits for large corporations such as Walmart, Target, and Macy's.  While its work may help companies with their bottom line, they appear to do little for their workers. 

At least ten of Guild's investors are based in Silicon Valley, including Silicon Valley Bank and venture capital firms in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park, California. reports Guild's estimated value at $1.3B, a 70 percent drop from its peak in June 2022. 

[Image above: Guild's valuation in Billions from]
The Higher Education Inquirer will continue to observe changes in edtech as the College Meltdown advances.  

A ‘rigged’ economy and skepticism about college (Paul Fain, Open Campus)

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

The Cheat Sheet (Derek Newton)

2U Virus Expands College Meltdown to Elite Universities 

Erica Gallagher Speaks Out About 2U's Shady Practices at Department of Education Virtual Listening Meeting

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

Guild Education: Enablers of Anti-Union Corporations and Subprime College Programs 

College Meltdown 2.0 

The Growth of "RoboColleges" and "Robostudents"

The American Dream is Over (Gary Roth) 

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)

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