University of Phoenix In Hot Water With Their Education Model

Is it true that a market driven, consumerist ideology and language dominates the discourse over online learning and distance education?  Is control placed in the hands of the administrative elite seeking to enhance institutional revenue? Does market driven language shift the focus of higher level education to just another product delivered by the clicking of a mouse?  Is the thrust of some for-profit school education seen as efficiency and increased market share?

Currently, the Massachusetts attorney general is investigating the Apollo Group (the parent company of the University of Phoenix) about its deceptive practices in student recruiting and financing. The University of Phoenix will be responsible for providing documents, detailed information, and testimony regarding a broad range of activities dating back to 2002.

The Apollo group has had active misconduct suits against them since 2003.  The investigations have been mounting and mostly center on the US Department of Education claims that the University of Phoenix defrauded them by obtaining Federal student loans and Pell Grants. This is extremely problematic with regard to students that were recruited for enrollment volume and resulted in unqualified students gaining admissions. These unqualified students pose a larger risk for defaulting on their loans says Congress.  This not only results in wasted federal funds, but also the students that receive these loans and default on them are burdened for years with tremendous debt without the benefit of a college degree.  Furthermore, the Apollo group ordered recruiters to destroy copies of sales scripts relating to recruiting practices as an effort to overhaul but told they were not to stop using them but rather to destroy evidence of them. These are pretty heady allegations and are the result of a rising assembly of complaints.

Another disturbing trend students experienced was having some of their mandatory upper level courses contain the exact same information already covered in one of their mandatory lower level courses. In addition, the Apollo group concealed these allegations of dodgy practices from its shareholders.  Other complaints include inaccurate course descriptions and major areas of study that don’t prepare students for jobs. This is some pretty wicked wrongdoings, especially in a down turned economy.  On one hand they aggressively recruit unqualified students and take their loan money, and then on the other hand the students that are qualified don’t get what they paid for anyway. Of one of the many students that willingly gave out their contact information and commented on the unlawful actions against them by the University of Phoenix is a student I’ll call, “M” . M was exasperated at the months and months it took for anything to even begin to get resolved and her story was very typical. M said it was frustrating at the amount time that the financial department holds on to the money without applying it to a student’s account. It’s very difficult to take the time to track your money and to contact to ask where your funds are says M. Another complaint is about the mandated study groups that are mandatory throughout the duration of your college career. This is complicated on many levels one being that other people were in part responsible for your grade.

The practical solution is for faculty to evaluate new models of higher education. In light of online technology, there is a need for the development of alternative models of instruction. The majority of online students are working adults with some collegiate experience trying to complete a degree or certification requirement. They have working and familial responsibilities far above those of the typical unattached and non-working college student 18-23 years old.  Unfortunately their perspective is perceived as pragmatic and functional and often with little time for reading and reflection. In this way they are viewed as consumer in a market driven society. The accusations against the Apollo group are a clear example of how things go wrong when the students and the education aren’t put first. Students and faculty need to be addressed in a language that refers to them as individuals, as members of a larger society, and as participants in an intellectual community. Online education shouldn’t be reduced to simply developing skilled workers. The University of Phoenix has done little to draw students and professors into the possibilities that online education holds for individual development, creative growth, and social empowerment.

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