The University of Phoenix has responded to ProPublica’s recent story on its enrollment practices, calling it "nothing more than a series of anecdotes." ProPublica reported the story with Amy Scott of Marketplace.
The story reported that University of Phoenix students who enter associate degree programs graduate at a lower rate than students at comparable for-profit institutions. The story incorrectly said that 37 percent of Phoenix students who begin two-year programs ultimately graduate. ProPublica corrected the story to reflect the accurate figure, which according to the university’s annual academic report is 27 percent.
As the story on Marketplace reported, that’s less than half the 60 percent rate of graduation achieved by students seeking two-year degrees at for-profit institutions.
The University of Phoenix noted that its graduation rates for more advanced degrees are higher — 38 percent for students seeking bachelor degrees and 60 percent for graduate courses. We didn’t quote those numbers because we were trying to compare apples to apples: University of Phoenix’s two-year rates against those of the for-profit sector as a whole.
The university’s assertion that the ProPublica stories were "anecdotes" did not address its recent announcement that it was setting aside $80 million to settle a lawsuit brought by two former employees who say they were improperly pressured to sign up students. It also did not refer to the $10 million University of Phoenix paid to the Department of Education in 2004 to resolve a federal examination of its recruiting practices.
Investigators reported that Phoenix was illegally pressuring recruiters to sign up unqualified students, and creating elaborate systems to "avoid detection by the Department."
Finally, the University of Phoenix said that ProPublica did not take up its offer to call a recruiter at random. That is not correct. We did so and the person who handled our inquiry provided accurate information about courses. The recruiter, however, also sent an e-mail to us noting that she was not "in any way, shape or form on commission" and that the enrollment of additional students "does NOT benefit me in any way other than the satisfaction of knowing that people are getting the education that they deserve!"
The university acknowledged to us that recruitment success does figure in its employees’ compensation. "It is entirely appropriate and lawful for schools to pay recruiters in part based upon how well they perform their job," the university wrote in its press release responding to the ProPublica/Marketplace stories.