University of Arizona buys college online

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(TNS) – The University of Arizona is pulling together the pieces to create a new online university with the announcement Monday that it is buying a for-profit online school.

Ashford University’s assets, including its 35,000 students, will be placed under the umbrella of the University of Arizona’s global campus, a fully online non-profit entity, the administration said. It will serve as an extension to the Global Campus, made up of 150 sites around the world.

Since the spring, UA administrators have investigated the potential sale to bolster the university’s offerings of more than 65 online programs. They said the move would help them serve more under-represented and non-traditional students, as well as offer additional career paths in a flexible and affordable way.

“We’re really good at the 18-22 industry,” said Jeff Goldberg, retired Dean Emeritus of the College of Engineering and Special Advisor to the President. “We’re also very good at higher education, but there is a much larger mission in education for the state of Arizona and the United States that we think we should be involved in as well.”

Goldberg said there is an “interesting student mix” among the population of Ashford; 90% of its student body is over 25, a quarter of students are active-duty or retired military, over 35% are black, and 56% are Pell scholarship recipients.

President Robert Robbins said the AU’s push for expanded online education follows that of Arizona State University, which offers online courses to tens of thousands of people each year.

“We have lost around 5,000 students on our online platform. Whereas, if you look at President (Michael) Crow and ASU, there are almost 60,000 online. We see this is the future change in higher education, ”Robbins said.

With major operations in Tucson and Phoenix, the move makes Arizona an instant powerhouse in online education.

Those in Ashford – including 2,400 faculty members – should not face disruption as they are welcomed into their future home, AU officials said.

Ashford operates year round with five week courses starting weekly. Students can choose from over 60 different programs.

Classes are taught by a staff of 40% full-time faculty who have earned their doctorates while 47% hold a managerial position or more in their company, Goldberg said.

“We were really impressed with the school they come from, the kind of work they do and the passion they have for educating students,” he said.

Craig Wilson, the AU’s new vice-chancellor for online and distance education, said that as a former Ashford faculty member he found that everyone was there to support each other mutually.

“I can say that even then they really had a great infrastructure to support the teachers. They really pushed our faculty to really listen to students, ”Wilson said. “The students I worked with were working adults, around 25 to 60 years old and able to instruct this student body, I found that really exhilarating.

The agreement

The AU has entered into a long-term agreement with Ashford’s operating partner, Zovio, a Chandler-based education technology services company. This is the sale of Ashford and the provision of services by Zovio such as “recruiting, student counseling, financial aid counseling,” Goldberg said. “They can even help build new courses and programs. They also have abilities in this space.

Ashford will be sold for $ 1 as part of a deal arranged to allow UA to “ramp up with very low initial costs,” Goldberg added.

While the final details of the deal will likely be finalized in November or December, there will be a money guarantee for Ashford to continue operations, significant funds returned to the AU, and funds for Zovio’s services.

As a separate entity, the University of Arizona Global Campus will have a separate Board of Directors and President. However, the AU administration will have certain seats on the board and will play a role in setting up the processes followed by the Global Campus.

“We would have oversight of academics, the quality and how the degree is delivered to students,” Robbins said. Students will be offered the Ashford programs in the United States and a mix of online programs from UA and Ashford internationally, the administration said. Existing UA online programs will continue as is.

Past allegations

The deal between the AU and Zovio, formerly known as Bridgepoint Education, was not reached without responding to allegations of misconduct against the company, officials said.

In 2017, a lawsuit was filed against the company for allegedly using its admissions office to make false promises about financial aid to prospective students to get them to enroll.

Ashford then allegedly used “illegal debt collection practices” against students who were struggling to pay their bills, according to a press release from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office.

The trial date is set for April 2021 in San Diego Superior Court.

Ashford University remains accredited until spring 2025 by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, a regional association accrediting a range of schools in the United States.

“We have made it very clear that these types of unethical behavior will not be tolerated. There are also a number of attorneys who comb through every allegation, ”Goldberg said.

Robbins said it will take work to get the message across that this acquisition will benefit students.

“We just didn’t do as good a job as I think we could have in this regard. I think this is a great opportunity for us to take this message to students that the University of Arizona cares about you, cares about your future, ”Robbins said.

The future UA

Internally, it is hoped that with the expansion, not only will more students pass through the AU pipeline, but that the financial gains will also be recognized for years to come. This is especially important now, with the AU facing extreme financial pressure from COVID-19.

“When an organization is in trouble, you can’t just step back and let the world unfold around you. You have to think about where you would like to be in 10 years and what are the things you would like to do to help you get there, ”Goldberg said.

He noted that “if you look at the big vendors online, they’re $ 600 million and $ 700 million a year companies. This could easily, in a decade, represent $ 100 million in revenue for the University of Arizona. “

UA administrators believe there is much more room for student enrollment to increase, as Ashford served 85,000 students at its peak.

“We are a land grant institution and the mission of most, if not all, land grants is to continue to provide access” to education, said Vice-Chancellor Wilson.

“As the demographics of students change, our mode of delivery needs to be reflected in that change. That’s why movements like this are needed – to be positioned not just for tomorrow, but for the next decade. “

© 2020 The Arizona Daily Star, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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