The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Cheat me in the price, but not in the goods... ...English proverb.
Commentary of the Day - April 12, 2000: Another Dirty Little Secret from the "University" of Phoenix:
Regular readers of The Irascible Professor will recall that back in January we exposed several of the techniques that the "University" of Phoenix uses to maximize its profit at the expense of quality education.  One of those techniques was the use of "short fill" courses.  I.e., courses that contained significantly less content than similar courses taught at a real university.

Well it seems that this particular technique has come back to bite the "University" of Phoenix in its wallet.  According to Stephen Burd, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the "University" of Phoenix has agreed to pay the federal government and various lenders $6-million to settle a dispute with the U.S. Department of Education over financial aid.  Originally the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General, Ms. Lorrain Lewis, had recommended a repayment of $50.6-million for federal student loans that had been improperly granted to "University" of Phoenix students.

The crux of the argument between the "university" and the government was about who should be considered a "full-time" student.  For institutions like Phoenix that do not follow a traditional semester, quarter, or trimester system, students are expected to complete 360 class hours per year (the equivalent of taking 12 semester units for two semesters at most colleges and universities) in order to qualify for student loans.  However, at the "University" of Phoenix the typical "full-time" student completes only 180 class hours per year.  Just one-half of what would be required at a real college or university.

Phoenix had attempted to get around the 360 class hour rule by working out an agreement in 1994 with the U.S. Department of Education that would allow time spent by its students in formal study groups to count.  According to Ms. Lewis, the government agreed to this provided that the study group meetings were required of all students, and that they were held on property owned or leased by the "university".  The Inspector General noted that most "study group" sessions were not held at "University" of Phoenix facilities, that no "university" instructors or representatives were at these sessions, and that there was no way of knowing how many students actually participated in the study groups.

As part of the agreement with the government, Phoenix has agreed to require in the future that students sign study group attendance logs showing that they actually were present for the required number of hours.  However, even if the combination of actual class hours plus study group hours adds up to 360 these are still "short fill" classes.  In a traditional college or university program, the student would participate in 360 hours of instruction, and would be expected to complete from 2 to 3 hours of work outside class for every hour in class.  Note the difference here 1,080 to 1,440 hours of work for 24 semester units of credit vs. 360 hours of work for the same credit at "University" of Phoenix.  Perhaps the Department of Education should rethink its agreement!

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