US Senators Express Concerns About Buying University Online


(TNS) – Two U.S. senators have raised concerns over the University of Arizona’s deal to buy a for-profit college and use its assets to bolster its online offerings.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a letter to AU President Robert Robbins that the university must take steps to ensure students are not exploited.

“Without clear protections for students built into this transaction by UA, its accreditors, and the Department of Education, Arizona taxpayers risk becoming owners of a predatory for-profit college shrouded in your university’s aura. prestigious, “wrote the senators.

The AU has agreed to buy Ashford University for $ 1 and add its assets – including the San Diego School’s 35,000 online students – to create the University of London’s global campus. ‘Arizona. The new platform will be a separate, fully online nonprofit. It will serve as an extension to the Global Campus, made up of 150 sites around the world.

AU officials said the 18-22-year-old population makes up most of its students, but the deal will strengthen UA’s support for non-traditional and under-represented students as well as its online offerings.

“It helps us serve a population of students who are often left behind and these are people who may not have had the opportunity for some reason to go to college after high school.” said Robbins. “They are mostly working adults, and I am very excited and proud that the University of Arizona will serve this student population.”

Ashford owner Zovio, which is an education technology services company, will pay $ 25 million a year for the first five years of a 15-year, $ 225 million deal, according to a file from the DRY. It will then pay $ 10 million per year to complete the contract before it is renewed.

The deal also provides for Zovio to earn 19.5% annual tuition income once the UA Global Campus covers its direct operating costs.

One of the concerns for senators is Zovio, which provides its recruiting, student counseling and financial aid counseling services, as the for-profit college has experienced legal problems in recent years.

“The organization – and in some cases the individuals – responsible for Ashford’s shameful record as a for-profit university should continue to be responsible for a variety of key functions of the UA Global Campus – many of those same functions for which Ashford was investigated and prosecuted.

Zovio, formerly known as Bridgepoint Education, still faces a case in the San Diego Supreme Court scheduled for April 2021. Legal action was brought against the company by the state of California in 2017 for allegedly used his admissions office to make false promises about prospective students. financial assistance to encourage them to register.

Illegal debt collection practices were then used to trick struggling students into paying their bills, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who filed the lawsuit.

“Ashford, now owned by Zovio, has been a major player in the past two decades that a group of state attorneys general called an ‘open season’ on students due to systemic student fraud and theft. of taxpayers through the for-profit college industry, ”the senators’ letter reads.

In 2014, Zovio paid a $ 7.25 million settlement with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller for consumer fraud.

“Sadly, for many Ashford students, they didn’t get the degree they hoped for or the job they were led to believe they would be offered upon graduation. They ended up with an overwhelming amount of student loan debt, ”Miller said following the three-year investigation.

In 2016, Zovio was ordered to pay $ 30 million by the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection for deceptive acts, including deceiving students about their loans.

Robbins pointed the finger at the WASC Senior College and University Commission, Ashford’s regional accreditation agency, saying the main concerns about these practices were addressed in its latest report.

“As we did our academic due diligence, governance due diligence, and business due diligence, we were confident that we could enter, take over this university, serve the students, and provide our support for the mission of being a university. granting land, ”said Robbins.

Meanwhile, senators recommended that the AU’s global campus board of directors put in place clear policies, including “independent oversight structures” and an elimination of class-action bans, which require students to waive their right to continue or join a course. legal action against an entity that may have caused them harm.

The senators’ letter only added to the list of concerns, some of which echoed previous topics mentioned by a group of six professors at the AU’s Eller College of Management. They were one of many groups consulted in June about the potential purchase of Ashford.

Under a nondisclosure agreement, the AU administration released more information on the proposed deal, naming it “DigiCat Project” and changing the names of Ashford and Zovio to “Antelope “And” Zebra “respectively.

Professors called the deal a potential “catastrophic error” and voiced reservations in response to the administration.

“A quick Google search reveals that less than 29% of their students graduate… the average student leaves with $ 36,000 in debt,” the group said of Ashford.

“In addition, enrollments at Antelope University (Ashford) have fallen an average of 10.54% per year over the past seven years. If this trend continues, we estimate that Antelope University will lose between $ 35 million and $ 94 million per year over the next five years. Therefore, we think the DigiCat project is a bad investment.

The group also said associating with Ashford University and its history of predatory practices could hamper the AU’s efforts to attract instructors and donors.

Robbins said earlier this month that he is aware of things that could affect the UA brand.

“One of the problems is that Ashford was a for-profit university, and there were aggressive recruiting practices and people not finishing their degrees but with significant debt,” Robbins said. “I think we have to execute and make sure that we provide a high quality ethical education to these students, and I have no doubts that we will or I would not have agreed to make this deal.”

© 2020 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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