Founder of Apollo Group, 90, Driven to Excel

Walk into his office, and the billionaire will gingerly rise from his chair to greet you – a feat for any 90-year-old.

In many ways, John Sperling is the same fierce intellectual who created an education juggernaut more than 30 years ago.

Sperling’s eyes are bright. Dressed in crisp khaki pants and a striped button-down shirt, he looks closer to 70. The considerable drive that propelled Sperling, who was born in a log cabin in the Ozarks, to the helm of a Fortune 500 company that he created remains evident. And he has no plans to retire. The founder of the University of Phoenix keeps a tactician’s eye on the industry and company that he helped shape.

Yes, that University of Phoenix.

The company beloved by many working adults who earned online degrees when traditional schools weren’t an option. The company that’s under government scrutiny because many students can’t repay their loans. The company that helped popularize online classes, now a ubiquitous part of higher education. The school criticized for having low graduation rates. The bellwether of the for-profit education industry.

With nearly 400,000 students, the University of Phoenix is the largest for-profit school in the United States. Its student body is more than five times larger than Arizona State University’s and roughly equal to the population of Miami, Fla.

Like businesses that have become household names, the university has become a sprawling, distinctly American institution. Ingenious. Loved. Hated. Influential.

Sperling’s passion, he said, always has been educating working adults.

"University of Phoenix is my proudest legacy," said Sperling, who is executive chairman of the school’s parent company, Apollo Group Inc.

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AZ Central

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