Blog: Obama’s New Cybersecurity Coordinator has a Degree from … The University of Phoenix?

On Tuesday, the Obama administration introduced Howard A. Schmidt as its selection for the government’s Cybersecurity Coordinator position. As government agencies are prone to do, the administration made its new hire’s biographical information available to the press, most of whom probably glanced over it with the usual monotony applied to hand outs.

This is a common occurrence on Capitol Hill, with so many government bodies and committees, lobby and special interest groups, and national organizations, someone is always being appointed, dismissed, promoted, or calling it a career — and their background is essential for reporters to write complete stories and to give the general public an idea about the person’s credentials.

Tuesday’s introduction, according to the mainstream media, was significant because it ended a nearly year-long search. President Obama has taken his time in appointing his inner-circle and as far back as last winter, was drawing ire from critics for taking so long to surround himself with quality staff people.

For those of us in the career education industry, Obama’s choice was significant for another reason. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix and holds an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.

The Apollo Group, owners of the University of Phoenix, has of course been a focal point for new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and the Department of Education (DOE) under his leadership. In October, it was announced the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was opening an investigation into the Apollo Group’s accounting practices. Some, including myself, saw this as the DOE’s first move in officially defacing the legitimate success of career educators.

The logic, from their perspective, is easy to follow. Traditional colleges and universities are struggling mightily to entice students to their campuses, while, at the same time, career colleges are reporting landmark enrollments. In the first quarter of this year, Apollo Group reported its first billion dollar quarter. Those types of announcements draw attention, especially from those trying to figure out why the hallowed halls of more esteemed university’s are struggling to keep pace.

The call for Apollo’s head has gotten stronger. Last week, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, called for congressional committees with oversight over education and universities to investigate the University of Phoenix for its financial aid, admissions and recruiting practices. Cummings cited a recent article by ProPublica that alleged University of Phoenix admission representatives misled prospective students when it came to financial aid, course offerings and the ability to transfer UOP credits to other schools.

The DOE has maintained its skepticism and overwhelmingly negative perspective of our sector: career colleges couldn’t possibly being doing as well as they claim simply by offering an education model that is more convenient (and practical) for today’s students.  The SEC investigation was an insinuation that the commission wanted proof that Apollo wasn’t a diploma mill and hasn’t doctored or helped applicants cheat on financial aid eligibility exams.

If the University of Phoenix is a diploma mill, the Obama administration made a bad choice. Actually, Obama himself made a bad choice. According to this report from the Huffington Post, quoting an official within the Obama organization,  “ … Obama was personally involved in the selection process and chose Schmidt after an extensive search because of his unique background and skills. Schmidt will have regular and direct access to the President for cybersecurity issues, the official said.”

At best, this is a confusing choice given Schmidt’s background. Why choose someone who graduated from an institution whose reputability your very own administration is calling into question? Such a move has encouraged me to question Mr. Obama and his thought process. He’s shown himself to be an intelligent man. Given the impression that his administration has created about the University of Phoenix, this is more than just a bad PR move. Using his own logic, he’s hired Schmitt … someone who might not be qualified … and yet we all know that’s not the case.

Kevin Kuzma, Editor, Career College Central

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