The little college with 70k+ students

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Hokiephile, Mar 10, 2011.

  1. Hokiephile

    Hokiephile New Member

    "Buying Legitimacy" is the perfect title. It's one of the things that has most bothered me about distance ed institutions. They're buying accreditation without earning it (or deserving it). Go to link for entire story.

    Buying Legitimacy: How A Group Of California Executives Built An Online College Empire

    Buying Legitimacy: How A Group Of California Executives Built An Online College Empire

    Chris Kirkham

    Buying Legitimacy: How A Group Of California Executives Built An Online College Empire

    CLINTON, Iowa -- Inside the red brick campus of Ashford University, perched on a bluff above the Mississippi River, the door marked "President's Office" remains perpetually shut. Telephone calls to the university's head are swiftly transferred to a corporate office some 2,000 miles away, in San Diego.

    A new, 500-seat football stadium adorns the campus, and is featured prominently in Ashford's promotional literature, though the university has no football team. Signs around campus proudly read "Founded 1918" and "90 Years Strong," despite the fact that Ashford -- one of the nation's fastest-growing for-profit colleges -- has existed for less than a decade.

    The perplexing campus landscape here in Iowa amounts to an elaborate stage set for a lucrative, online education empire that uses these trappings to sell itself to students as a traditional college experience. That strategy was the brainchild of the corporation behind Ashford: Bridgepoint Education Inc., a publicly traded venture started by a group of former executives from the University of Phoenix, a name now synonymous with for-profit higher education and the controversial marketing practices that have brought the industry crosswise with federal regulators.

    Six years ago, Bridgepoint purchased what was then called Franciscan University of the Prairies, a near-bankrupt, 300-student college that for decades had been run by a local order of Franciscan nuns. The school delivered a crucial commodity: legal accreditation. That enabled Ashford's students to tap federal financial aid dollars, the source of nearly 85 percent of the university's revenues -- more than $600 million in the last academic year. Ashford now counts nearly 76,000 students, 99 percent of whom take classes online.
  2. StefanM

    StefanM New Member

    I find this illegitimate. Accreditation should not be bought and sold, IMO.
  3. Randell1234

    Randell1234 Moderator

    The accreditiation was not brough and sold. The accreditied school was purchased. I had seen this story on 20/20 (or one of those shows) a few years ago and this really slants it. The school was ready to shut down and a for-profit group purchased it.
  4. StefanM

    StefanM New Member

    This is a distinction without a difference. The accreditation was the sine qua non of the purchase.
  5. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    It will be interesting to see what happens in Ashford's next accreditation review, scheduled for 2014-2015.

    It sounds like the HLC has some concerns about the rather unusual changes that have occurred since the last review (e.g. enrollment growth from 300 to 76,000). It also sounds like Ashford may be required to seek accreditation with WASC in the future, given that it is actually run from San Diego, not Iowa.

  6. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Of course, regional accreditation is not actually that important. The real determinant of a "legitimate university", as every American knows, is a Football Stadium. In fact, it doesn't even matter whether or not there is a football team to play there -- the stadium itself is sufficient proof of legitimacy.

    Just ask Ashford:

    Or the University of Phoenix:

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 10, 2011
  7. foobar

    foobar Member

  8. damooster

    damooster New Member

    OK, the big question is: does anyone know how I can get out of their graduate program? I submitted the application, completed a FAFSA, VONAPP (application for veteran benefits) etc. I'm set to start my first class on April 5th. Can I just call them and ask them to cancel everything moving forward?

    Had I known all this crap, I would've have enrolled with them in the first place.
  9. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Wait- maybe its possible to buy an accredited school in order to obtain its accreditation, as a back-door approach, but then don't you have to maintain that accreditation anyway? If you pass your audits, then I don't see the big deal.

    Regarding Caldog's post: if there's concern now, why would the accreditor wait until the next audit to do something about it?
  10. StefanM

    StefanM New Member

    The problem is that institutional mission and the makeup of the student body are factors in accreditation. Whenever an organization adopts a radically different mission that dramatically changes the makeup of the student body, the accreditor must approve this change.

    It makes sense. Why would you continue accreditation for an online-driven, for-profit venture that was based on the history of a non-profit, tiny, residential, liberal arts college? The factors that led to accreditation are totally different.
  11. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Right. So if the accreditors approve of the change, then where is all of this talk about "buying accreditation" coming from?
  12. Randell1234

    Randell1234 Moderator

    Known all what crap? Anyplace you look you will find pros & cons and any crackpot that can create a website and post anything they think. They were a non-profit and now they are for-profit - it happens. It happened to me with Touro. I think the only "safe" bet at this point is a public school.
  13. StefanM

    StefanM New Member

    The problem is that the HLC-NCA wasn't really enforcing this provision previously. That's why Ashford exists.

    Investors later tried this for Dana College, but HLC-NCA denied the request.

    IMO, the federal government should tighten financial aid regulations in this arena.

    If a school changes from non-profit to for-profit status, federal financial aid should be limited to the existing programs/formats for a reasonable period of time. The problem is that the schools transfer ownership then unload a bevy of online cash-cow programs. Having a restriction such as this would deter these practices.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 10, 2011
  14. Randell1234

    Randell1234 Moderator

    This is far from my knowledge level but how much does the business model of a school play into the accreditiation factors? Do they have one set of rules for a non-profit and another for a for-profit? If a B&M school created a strong online division (as Liberty has), do they need to reapply?

    What factors are considered for accreditiation?
  15. StefanM

    StefanM New Member

    Accreditation | Information for Institutions

    You can find information specific to NCA-HLC here. They don't appear to have different sets of rules, but there are regulations regarding major changes such as a transfer of ownership.

    Each agency has slightly different rules, but they generally follow this trend.

    Generally, major changes, such as the implementation of online programs, etc., does require approval from the accreditation agency. They would not reapply for accreditation, per se; they would request the approval to offer the new programs.
  16. friendorfoe

    friendorfoe Active Member

    Man, what a hack piece. Bridgeport Education, the people who bought the Franciscan University of the Prarie did not “buy” accreditation, they bought an accredited school. Prior to the current administration within the U.S. Department of Education, there really was not a lot of scrutiny on this but Arne Duncan and his former Deputy Undersecretary Robert Shireman have made no secret of their feelings towards for profit schools to even include charter schools at the k-12 level.

    Add this type of activism to a profit motive ala Steve Eisman and Senator Harkin and it’s easy to see why the entire industry is coming under fire. Ashford University is quickly becoming the big boy on the block for a lot of reasons and if they can be brought down, the University of Phoenix and the like will be much softer targets.

    The facts on the ground are this, the “football stadium” mentioned in the article is actually a track, football and soccer stadium. The school is part of the NAIA and has mentioned in the past that they would like a football program. When Bridgeport took over the school, athletic programs were either underserved or nonexistent, now they have a highly competitive basketball team, a baseball team, soccer team, etc. Ashford is growing and the stadium is not a $40 million dollar ploy just to look legitimate. The fact is they are legitimate.

    The HLC made an unprecedented move when they denied accreditation to Dana College simply because of the college’s profit status. This really hurt a small town, put a lot of people out of work, a lot of students on the street and for what? What did all of that accomplish? The HLC denied the transfer of accreditation because the U.S. Department of Education did not approve of the transfer. This way oversteps the bounds and limitation of the U.S. Department of Education and pretty much ignores the fact that every one of the regional accrediting bodies is by design, autonomous of the government and are private organizations (the way it should be). Otherwise why not just roll the whole thing up under 1 department of education and dissolve them?

    Third, Senator Harkin and Steve Eisman and company are about to start another round of talks regarding for profit schools with Ashford being front and center but Ashford is not going to send a representative. Why should they? This is a witch hunt and this has become about nothing more than money wrapped in sanctimony. Eisman is a short seller, betting against for profits schools, not an industry expert. ‘

    It may also be worth noting that Ashford for being “all about money” provides full ride scholarships for on campus students who maintain a 4.0GPA and a successive series of scholarships for those with lower GPAs. If Ashford had shut its doors like Dana College did, who would that have served? Why would this have been a good thing?

    I personally earned my MBA at Ashford and am now attending Bellevue University. There is no discernerable difference between the two schools other than perhaps Ashford is a bit slicker in their technology and at that time, Bellevue cost just a bit more. The profit status of a school has nothing to do with rigor, but the devaluing of a niche stock market has everything to do with greed.
  17. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Accreditation is typically granted for a 10-year interval. Ashford was previously accredited under the old policies through 2014.

    Accreditors can step in before the expiration date under certain clearly defined emergency circumstances, such as a financial collapse. But the old policies did not include a massive increase in enrollment as such a circumstance. The HLC never saw it coming.

    HLC has learned a lesson here:

    HLC can apply the new policies to new schools if they try the same trick, but it's too late for them to do anything about Ashford. HLC can't apply its new policies retroactively.
  18. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Aha, now I understand. Thanks for answering my questions :You_Rock_Emoticon:
  19. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    The local paper quoted an Ashford VP last year as stating "there is no timetable for adding football as a sport at Ashford". The Athletics Dept. is currently making no effort to recruit football players.

    The new "soccer field and outdoor track" does look great in photos. And if you look really hard, you can almost make out the soccer markings.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 11, 2011
  20. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member


    Aw, come on! Why doesn't the college I work at have a bowling alley?!

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