June 26, 2024

Report: U of Arizona Global Campus, aka Ashford, Continues Deceiving Students

Report: U of Arizona Global Campus, aka Ashford, Continues Deceiving Students

A major investigative report from the Arizona Republic finds that the University of Arizona Global Campus, the online college that the state’s flagship university bought from a for-profit company, has continued to mislead students about the value and costs of their degrees. Students who spoke with the Republic described UAGC admissions staff engaging in aggressive and deceptive recruiting, and explained that they were left with useless degrees and tens of thousands in student loan debt. 

The Republic‘s Hannah Dreyfus reports that she interviewed more than two dozen students, including Tracie Frazier, a Florida-based U.S. Navy veteran who enrolled in a behavioral health degree program at UAGC in 2022. Frazier says UAGC placed her in an $8600 student loan without her knowledge — which pushed her to drop out.  Only after Frazier threatened legal action did the school cancel this loan obligation.

Sonyee Jackson, an Army veteran from Oklahoma City, received a degree in supply chain management from UAGC in 2021. She says that when she struggled to get a job, the school’s career services office failed to respond to her.

And Heather Harris obtained a master’s degree in psychology in 2022, with the aim of helping address addiction issues, but she learned that she couldn’t get a counseling job without a state license, something she says UAGC never told her would be required.  Harris returned to her old $9.50-an-hour job at a sewing factory. She owes $90,000 in student loans.

The University of Arizona bought Ashford University from for-profit Zovio, Inc., in a 2020 deal that allowed Zovio to keep making lucrative profits by providing a range of services to the school, while permitting newly-renamed UAGC to tout itself as being associated with a respected state school and to escape a range of regulations that apply only to for-profit entities. 

In 2021, we reported here, based on accounts by Zovio / UAGC staff, that the school’s dishonest, predatory practices persisted following the sale.

After a California judge in 2022 found Ashford and Zovio liable for years of egregious deceptive practices, Zovio bowed out and shut down, and UAGC promised a new chapter, with better behavior and better educational quality, even though it hired most of the Zovio-Ashford staff (but did not hire the old company’s senior executives). 

But the new report from the Arizona Republic suggests it has been dirty business as usual at the school.

The Republic reveals, among other things, that UAGC has retained essentially the same student enrollment agreement as was used under Zovio, and that it includes a student accepting this statement: “I understand that this program is not intended to prepare students for professional licensure or certification in any field, regardless of concentration or specialization.” This small-print trap seems meant to protect UAGC / Ashford from complaints by students like Heather Harris, and also, for example, from students in UAGC education programs — degrees from those programs do not allow graduates to become teachers in any U.S. state.

UAGC, also, has kept Ashford’s federal ID number, requiring UAGC students to designate discredited “Ashford” on some applications for financial aid and jobs.

The Republic also learned that UAGC is spending more than 20 percent of its $226 million annual budget on marketing, compared with less than one percent for the main UA school. 

University of Arizona president Robert Robbins announced in April that he will be stepping down, after criticism had mounted, including from Arizona governor Katie Hobbs, over his handling of the acquisition of for-profit Ashford, as well as over U of A’s related financial turmoil.

Republic Report has been among many voices contending from the outset that the Ashford deal was a mistake for the University of Arizona. We questioned the proposed acquisition on the very day it was announced, August 3, 2020; we cited Ashford’s extensive history of predatory practices, deceptions against students and taxpayers, and law enforcement problems.  Two days later we asked more questions about the deal, including President Robbins‘ motivation.

In 2021, after the acquisition, we reported allegations by a UAGC recruiter that deceptive practices continued and by an instructor that shoddy academic practices persisted. 

In March 2022, a California state judge issued a $22.3 million verdict against Ashford and its previous owner, Zovio, for deceptive practices, after a civil trial prosecuted by the state’s attorney general. In March of this year, a California appeals court affirmed the judgment against the school.

Last August, the U.S. Department of Education announced it was cancelling $72 million in student loan obligations for more than 2,300 former students who attended Ashford between 2009 and 2020; the Department subsequently affirmed that it would seek to recoup those costs, and it appeared that UAGC would be on the hook.

[UPDATE 06-27-24 9:00 am: Despite all the evidence of abuses and problems, the University of Arizona announced last week it is moving ahead with a plan to more directly integrate UAGC into UA. They are doing so without explaining how UAGC, which has been losing students and money, can turn itself around financially without recommitting to the deceptive and predatory practices that helped Ashford make big money for years.

U of A cites as the basis for its plan an assessment prepared by Ernst & Young, a paper, dated June 18, that downplays and ignores to an absurd degree Ashford / UAGC’s history of predatory abuses against students and the past and potential future consequences of that bad behavior.]

The U.S. Department of Education still has not formally approved the change of ownership of the school from Zovio to U of A, and it shouldn’t, especially in light of the latest revelations from the Arizona Republic

The University of Arizona should stop enrollment at UAGC, find alternative options for current students, and shut UAGC down. 

To the People of Arizona (and also Idaho): The school was able to make money only by engaging in deceptive practices — that was the school’s secret sauce. And that’s the only way you could make money with the school. And if you do, you will compromise your state school’s integrity and ultimately get caught. And if you don’t engage in deceptive practices, you will lose money and ultimately shut down. 

UPDATE 06-29-24: A new report from Arizona’s non-partisan Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) evaluates the Ernst & Young paper prepared for UA and concludes that it “reveals serious shortcomings” at UAGC, and also at UA’s original and still-operating online school, Arizona Online. The GCI report’s findings:

  • UAGC relies substantially on paid leads to recruit students and its marketing costs are more than $5,000 for each undergraduate student who enrolls. 
  • Arizona Online pays just $1,500 in marketing costs for each undergraduate student who enrolls.
  • By contrast, public institutions typically pay less than $300 in marketing costs to enroll a student, making online marketing costs for Arizona Online 5 times greater and UAGC more than 15 times greater.
  • For first-time, first-year students, the six-year completion rate is about one-fourth of the rate for on-campus students for both Arizona online and UAGC
  • The Ernst & Young report fails to flag the dramatic drop in enrollment at UAGC (14% per year) since the takeover as an area of concern.
  • While UAGC has broken even, it does so because it relies almost exclusively on low paid adjunct faculty who are usually paid less than $2,000 per course.

UPDATE 07-09-24:

The Arizona Republic published an article that includes these reactions to its recent piece:

A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson: “The Department has already helped borrowers out from under $72 million caused by Ashford’s unacceptable lies and misrepresentations. Its past behavior was unacceptable at any type of institution. If the Department concludes that an institution is engaging in misrepresentations or otherwise lying to students, we can and will take action to protect borrowers and hold schools accountable.”

Arizona governor Katie Hobbs “is calling a meeting in the coming days ‘to address these significant concerns and others related to UAGC.’” 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): “Don’t be fooled — UAGC is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After being bought by the University of Arizona, Ashford has been able to continue its classic for-profit predatory practices of raking in federal student aid while leaving students in a mountain of debt with a worthless degree under the new name of UAGC.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Schools with a “long history of scamming students and veterans should be held accountable even when they try to dress up their scams with new names and owners.”