Even though I only worked at one for six months, I still cringe when I think about for-profit colleges like this:
The University of Phoenix played a key role in defeating legislation that would have allowed community colleges in Arizona to offer low-priced bachelor’s degree programs, interviews and state records show.
The for-profit college, which is one of the state’s biggest employers, provided research and political muscle for a multi-year lobbying campaign against “community college baccalaureate degrees” – out of concern that those programs would undercut its business model.
For-profit schools and community colleges generally serve the same working, non-traditional student demographic, but tuition rates at community colleges are often much lower.
Historically, community colleges have offered two-year associate’s degrees, with students then transferring to other schools to earn a bachelor’s degree – also known as a baccalaureate degree. Recent efforts by community colleges to offer their own baccalaureate degree programs have been controversial, in part because they dramatically expand the traditional mission of these schools.
But advocates say these programs – which typically require approval from state lawmakers – better respond to student and employer needs by providing affordable, career-oriented, four-year degrees.
Beginning in 2005, the University of Phoenix lobbied Arizona state lawmakers against the degree programs, arguing that they would cost taxpayers too much money, duplicate existing programs, and “harm” the private college sector.
The company also sponsored research, circulated a letter, and published an op-ed opposing the programs.
And in a 2006 meeting with Wall Street analysts, University of Phoenix founder John Sperling publicly credited one of his top executives with “killing the community colleges’ four-year degree program in Arizona.”
“I’m not sure I want to be known as the woman that killed the community colleges in Arizona,” responded former University of Phoenix president Laura Palmer Noone, “but I appreciate that plug for my political ability.”
The company continued its involvement through 2011, primarily as an influential member of an association of private colleges that lobbied annually against community college baccalaureate degree programs. The lobbyist for the association also serves as a lobbyist for the University of Phoenix.
The University of Phoenix’s lobbying effort against community colleges appears to conflict with the public image it promotes: a partner to community colleges and an advocate for working adult students.
Indeed, the school is planning to launch more than 100 new partnerships with community colleges, which will funnel community college students into bachelor’s degree programs at the University of Phoenix. These partnerships are an important part of efforts to restore the financial health and reputation of the company, executives have said.
One of the partnerships is in Arizona, where the company’s lobbying has helped ensure community colleges cannot offer their own bachelor’s degree programs.