he University of Arizona has purchased for-profit online college Ashford University, which will be incorporated into the new “UA Global Campus,” a fully online degree program available to international students.
But the purchase has come under fire by some members of the faculty.
The University of Arizona paid $1 to acquire Ashford, which serves mostly non-traditional students over the age of 25. UA President Robert Robbins said the university is guaranteed to gain $225 million over the next 15 years as a result of this deal. This proposes attractive new revenue, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Robbins said they chose to acquire the online college in order to better serve a student base consisting of working adults.
Robbins called this a “complex and very sensitive” deal, and said the shared governance process was not as robust as usual because they were contemplating a purchase of a publicly traded company. All leadership staff involved with the process had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Once the deal was final and the news was released, Robbins acknowledged that there was a vocal group of faculty that raised concerns about this purchase.
As detailed in a June 19 letter from the UA’s Eller College of Management faculty, Ashford University has a history of predatory recruitment and illegal debt collection practices.
In 2014, Ashford University settled a lawsuit with the State of Iowa for $7.25 million. Former Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa called Ashford “an absolute scam,” according to the letter.
In 2016, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau levied an $8 million penalty against Ashford University’s owner, Zovio, and forced them to refund $23.5 million in student loans. The California Attorney General filed a lawsuit with Ashford University in 2017 and is set to go to trial in 2021.
Due to this alarming track record, the Eller group wrote that the University of Arizona is bound to see future lawsuits once it is legally tied to Ashford University.
“A quick Google search reveals that less than 29 percent of their students graduate,” the letter states. “Furthermore, the average student leaves with $36,000 in debt. Essentially, [Ashford University] takes money from vulnerable individuals and provides little to no value in return.”