Education

Letters

|

The Uses of Hyperbole

Matt Welch engages in hyperbole himself when he characterizes Hayek's thesis in The Road to Serfdom as "manifestations of collectivism even in market-based democracies lead inexorably down the road to tyranny," considering that Hayek advocates some lite-collectivist policies in that book ("The Uses of Hyperbole," August/September). It may take decades or even hundreds of years before the full consequences of socialist-leaning market democracies play out and we can determine whether these forms of governance can reach a stable, prosperous equilibrium or must slowly degenerate into tyranny.

Jim Henshaw
Kailua, HI

Education for Profit

As someone who works in the for-profit higher education sector, I really appreciated Katherine Mangu-Ward's thorough examination of the University of Phoenix model ("Education for Profit," July). There seems to be a prejudice out there that because a school is for profit, it isn't really helping anybody. Yet I work in my company's advertising department, and I routinely see testimonials from satisfied graduates who successfully changed careers with our help. Although our high school recruitment program is growing, most of our students are of the "nontraditional" variety described in the article: working adults who want a less expensive and more flexible alternative to the traditional liberal arts university. Our online campus caters mostly to single mothers who simply don't have the time to attend classes on a college campus. And we don't help our students out of the goodness of our hearts; we do it because there's money to be made. We make money; our graduates get better jobs. Everybody wins.

Enrique Bakemeyer
Herzing College
Milwaukee, WI

After two years at American University, where I had a 3.9 GPA, I had to take time off for health reasons. During this time, I finished my degree online through the University of Phoenix. With my health improved, I was able to complete my MBA from the University of Rochester, a top 25 program, earlier this year. I am now applying for quantitative finance programs at some of the top programs in the world, including Berkeley and UCLA. So while the University of Phoenix is much maligned—in part for good reason—the school can serve a purpose.

Matthew Graham
Rochester, NY

Katherine Mangu-Ward professes to examine traditional academia's contempt for the University of Phoenix and its for-profit model. After wading through her litany of just about every criticism leveled against the University of Phoenix in recent history—with little regard for truth or accuracy—I was left with the impression that she shares the disdain of the academic traditionalistsshe purports to expose.

I would expect a free market proponent such as reason to embrace the concept of for-profit education rather than suggest the University of Phoenix is "the educational equivalent of a subprime mortgage." What seems entirely lost on Mangu-Ward is the fact that the University of Phoenix is not trying to be a conventional four-year college or university. It is one of a handful of institutions, private and public, completely devoted to providing access to higher education for nontraditionalstudents—students who may delay enrollment, work full time, are financially independent, have dependents, or are single parents.

As recently noted by Kevin A. Hassett, a senior fellow and director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, "The institutions that serve low-income individuals best may well be the for-profit universities, such as the University of Phoenix." With minorities comprising more than 40 percent of its student population, the University of Phoenix is among the top degree producers in the country for minority students, including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.

For examples of Mangu-Ward's reckless journalism, one may start with her repeated claims of low graduation rates. University of Phoenix's completion rates are comparable to those of conventional four-year colleges and universities, averaging 40 percent to 60 percent. In a comparison of students who enter college with risk factors that often contribute to their dropping out—factors that are common among nontraditional students—the University of Phoenix's rates of completion for a bachelor's degree are substantially higher than those for public institutions overall. Students often enter the University of Phoenix with lower scores in the general education areas as compared to more exclusive institutions but perform at levels comparable to seniors at other institutions by the time they graduate. All of this information may be verified in the university's newly published annual academic report, which is readily available on its website.

Mangu-Ward goes on to allege that the University of Phoenix has never applied for accreditation of its MBA program because "it's not eligible." She may be interested to know that the MBA program is accredited by the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), as is, for example, the State University of New York. ACBSP is one of only two accrediting organizations for business programs recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a national voice for accreditation and quality assurance recognized by the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Education. Mangu-Ward prefers to cite and give credence only to the other organization, which seems to better fit her argument.

Mangu-Ward says the university in its early years was denied accreditation in California. This is simply untrue. The University of Phoenix is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association, one of six regional accrediting bodies considered to be the gold standard of accreditation. Regional accreditation is every bit as rigorous for the University of Phoenix as it is for the other colleges and universities accredited by the North Central Association, which include Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and the University of Arizona, to name a few.

Mangu-Ward cites dated complaints by the New Jersey Education Association but fails to note the fact that the University of Phoenix was granted licensure approval in the state, which is known to have among the highest quality standards in the nation. By repeatedly ignoring the facts in favor of unfounded hyperbole, Mangu-Ward denigrates the value of degrees earned by the University of Phoenix's nontraditional students and denigrates the students themselves.

She frequently cites David Breneman, a noted expert in higher education, as a critic of the university, yet fails to note that he serves as a nonpaid advisory board member of the University of Phoenix's newly formed National Research Center, an unusual role for a "critic." Mangu-Ward refers to a "comprehensive takedown" of the University of Phoenix by The New York Times (where, incidentally, she previously worked as a researcher). Yet the story was largely discredited following its publication, leading This Week in Education to ask, "Did the NYT Get it Wrong on the University of Phoenix?"

Finally, Mangu-Ward implies that the University of Phoenix preys on the underprivileged who attend the school primarily through government-issued Pell grants designed for low-income students. Yet only about a quarter of the university's students received Pell grants during the last year—not an uncommon percentage for a public college or university offering associate through doctoral programs. It is nonsensical to examine the University of Phoenix through the lens of traditional academia. It is not Yale, nor is it trying to be. The University of Phoenix is designed to accommodate busy adults through flexible schedules, a combination of online and conveniently located on-campus courses, and education technology.

According to the Making Opportunity Affordable initiative, the U.S. will need 16 million more Americans to earn degrees by 2025 in order to remain competitive with other leading developed nations, representing a 37 percent increase in productivity per year, as estimated by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Conventional institutions cannot accomplish this on their own. If our nation is going to remain competitive, we must raise more working adults to higher skill levels. The University of Phoenix is an important part of the process.

William J. Pepicello
President, University of Phoenix

Katherine Mangu-Ward replies: The long, strangely angry letter from the University of Phoenix proves the old maxim that no good deed goes unpunished. My intent was to defend Phoenix from the more outrageous, unfair criticisms thrown at the school—something the other letter writers clearly comprehended. Somehow, Phoenix missed my point and instead responded as if listing those criticisms in order to refute them is equivalent to endorsing them. After accusing their critics of snobbery, I credited Phoenix as a champion of the poor and underserved, a bold and independent educational innovator, and the wave of the future. I also pointed out that the education it provides is partially federally funded and inferior in some ways to that offered by traditional four-year colleges. During my reporting, I had an excellent conversation with William Pepicello, whom I quoted approvingly several times. If the University of Phoenix is holding out for an article more sympathetic to for-profit educational ventures than mine, it may be waiting a long, long time.