From the New York Times (free registration required):
The university says that its graduation rate, using the federal standard, is 16 percent, which is among the nation’s lowest, according to Department of Education data. But the university has dozens of campuses, and at many, the rate is even lower./*snip*
The complaints have built through months of turmoil. The president resigned, as did the chief executive and other top officers at the Apollo Group, the university’s parent corporation. A federal court reinstated a lawsuit accusing the university of fraudulently obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid. The university denies wrongdoing. Apollo stock fell so far that in November, CNBC featured it on a “Biggest Losers” segment. The stock has since gained back some ground. In November, the Intel Corporation excluded the university from its tuition reimbursement program, saying it lacked top-notch accreditation.
It adds up to a damaging turnaround for an institution that rocketed from makeshift origins here in 1976 to become the nation’s largest private university, with 300,000 students on campuses in 39 states and online. Its fortunes are closely watched because it is the giant of for-profit postsecondary education; it received $1.8 billion in federal student aid in 2004-5.
“The university takes quality in the classroom seriously,” he said. The university brings a low-overhead approach not only to its campuses, most of which are office buildings near freeways, but also to its academic model. About 95 percent of instructors are part-time, according to federal statistics, compared with an average of 47 percent across all universities. Most have full-time day jobs. Courses are written at university headquarters, easing class preparation time for instructors.
The College Board reports the university’s annual tuition and fees as $9,630, about half the average at private four-year colleges and twice that of four-year public colleges.
Students take one course at a time, online or in evening classes, which meet for four hours, once a week, for five or six weeks, depending on degree level. As a result, students spend 20 to 24 hours with an instructor during each course, compared with about 40 hours at a traditional university. The university also requires students to teach one another by working on projects for four or five hours per week in what it calls “learning teams.”
Government auditors in 2000 ruled that this schedule fell short of the minimum time required for federal aid programs, and the university paid a $6 million settlement. But in 2002, the Department of Education relaxed its requirements, and the university’s stripped-down schedule is an attractive feature for many adults eager to obtain a university degree while working. But critics say it leaves courses with little meat.
“Their business degree is an M.B.A. Lite,” said Henry M. Levin, a professor of higher education at Teachers College at Columbia University. “I’ve looked at their course materials. It’s a very low level of instruction.”
Many students accuse recruiters of misleading them, and the university’s legal troubles trace back to similar accusations of recruitment abuses. In 2003, two enrollment counselors in California filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court accusing the university of paying them based on how many students they enrolled, a violation of a federal rule.
After the lawsuit was filed, the Department of Education sent inspectors to California and Arizona campuses. The department’s report, which became public in 2004, concluded that the university had provided incentives to recruit unqualified students and “systematically operates in a duplicitous manner.”
To be honest, I don't think this stems merely from injecting the profit motive into the institution, as I believe that even nonprofits and not-for-profit educational institutions have profit motives. What is at stake here is the redefinition of education and even human beings themselves as factory line parts. The act of centrally locating the decision making structure and giving a one-size-fits-all curriculum to workers incapable of on-site customization (despite claims of the opposite) reveals that the problem is probably not one of profit or nonprofit, but of control. What has made not-for-profit American Universities the best in the world is neither their altruism nor their conservative cultural value. Instead, it is a potent combination of their symbolic role in the class-amnesia of the "American Dream" coupled with a more distributed profit motive. Individual departments and disciplines combine their unique talents to keep the creative engine running (or slowly die off). There is still enough incentive to do good work, and the outside pressures have certainly not allowed the wholesale corruption or greedy metastisizing that occurs in any insulated and decadent institution (indeed, non-profits are dangerously close to losing one key to that success altogether--tenure). No, the University of Phoenix, with its centralized decision-making and politbureau top-down control looks more like Communist Russia than the not-for-profits' competition between teachers, departments, disciplines, colleges, universities, and conferences. When many people criticize Universities for homogenaity, it brings a smile to my face because I know they know not whereof they speak. While Michael Bérubé has documented a particular ideational trait in one strand of the Liberal Arts, there is a much, much, much larger ecosphere of ideas and practices battling across the thousands of institutions and WITHIN each institution. That competition is exactly what the U of Phoenix lacks. While they were busy naming stadia and wrapping themselves in the trappings of capitalism, they unhooked the small competition structures that make Universities actually function. No wonder the teachers lie about their degrees and send the students off to teach themselves.