June 27, 2003

U of Phoenix Still Rising

Working adults want their college degrees -- and the raises that come with them -- ASAP. The University of Phoenix is taking their desires to the bank.

-- Jeffrey Selingo, The Profit Motive

The Accidental Admin links to the above article "just to see if I can get Invisible Adjunct's blood to boil." Are you kidding?! I'm going corporate, with the U of Phoenix as my model and inspiration. I've had done with noble ideals: labors of love, teaching as vocation, learning for its own sake, and the like. I've spent years of my life in pursuit of said ideals, and look where I've ended up. Show me the money, baby. (And did you know that the U of Phoneix made a profit of $153 million last year?)

So I'm taking notes, doing a bit of market research, shall we say, in preparation for the founding of my own for-profit institution of degraded learning. I'm delighted to learn that "the image of for-profit schools as correspondence courses promoted by Sally Struthers on late-night television has been replaced by students who drive to class in BMWs and carry briefcases." And I think the man-made lake is a nice touch: "[There] is no quad, just a man-made lake bordered on one side by two car dealerships and on the other by sleek offices." Well, why not? Out with that neo-gothic nonsense. Sure, the university was once an arm of the Church, but it should now be the arm of what must be seen as the new religion of our age.

A couple of things to note about the above-linked article. First, in its description of "an army of part-time faculty members" that "helps boost Phoenix's profit margin," the article suggests a new standard of comparison:

All but a handful of Phoenix faculty are part-timers. The university actually calls them 'practitioners' since most of them work full time in the fields they teach. Phoenix takes care of the prep work by providing them with a centralized curriculum that is developed by a small cadre of full-time faculty as well as some part-time instructors. The lighter workload for faculty is reflected in pay: Phoenix instructors in the Washington area earn between $800 and $1,650 per course, compared with $2,000 to $5,000 for adjuncts at more traditional universities in the area.

What's interesting here is that the shockingly low pay rates for adjuncts in the Washington area is cited as the norm and standard, against which to measure the even lower pay rates for Phoenix adjuncts. We have sunk very low indeed. We could sink lower still.

The article suggests that "the initial consternation over Phoenix" has died down as "local university officials...realize now that Phoenix poses less of a threat than they first believed. They say that their enrollments of adult students remain steady, or in some cases are growing:"

Traditional colleges tend to 'exaggerate the impact of Phoenix,' says Breneman, the University of Virginia dean who is co-editing a book on for-profit universities. 'They set for-profits up as the bogeyman. For-profits are not stealing market share, they are essentially extending it.'

This may well be true in terms of student enrollment: the University of Phoenix has a different consumer base, and is presumably not in competition with more traditional universities in the area. But what about rates of pay for instructors? Might Phoenix exert a downward pressure on the already low rates of pay for adjuncts at other institutions? Not to worry: Most traditional institutions "say they have no interest in turning their institutions into a business, and even if they did, it would take years to roll back all the things that affect the bottom line: student activities, eclectic course offerings and tenure." That sounds reassuring, doesn't it?

Second, the article points to the some of the absurdities of credentialing (do I hear a comment from Zizka?). Take, for example, this account of a course in human resources management:

There's no lecturing here. The students know too much for that. Almost everyone prefaces his or her answers in class with, 'At my company,' or, 'At my previous employer.' When one student asks for an explanation of 'pay-banding,' the particulars are provided not by [instructor, or rather, "practitioner" ] Caputo but by a student who works at the Department of Defense, which uses such a system to establish pay ranges for positions.

After an hour, the discussion moves to telecommuting, which Roberson could teach himself. He works out of his Silver Spring home and has telecommuted for years. No one offers anything on the subject he doesn't already know, and Roberson has trouble staying focused. ('It was a battle against boredom,' he says later.)

So Roberson is not really learning anything he doesn't already know, but needs to have his already existing knowledge officially certified: "At Sun Microsystems, he says, he has been passed over for several promotions, sometimes by people he has trained. 'The excuse was always that they had a bachelor's degree, and I didn't,' Roberson says. 'I want to once and for all eliminate that excuse.'"

Phoenix currently operates in 26 states, and continues to expand operations. According to this report by the Chronicle (subscription-only), the U of Phoenix "is expected to receive approval today to open a New Jersey campus, five years after it withdrew a similar application amid heated opposition." This comes after withdrawing an application in 1998, "after vehement opposition from many public and private colleges in New Jersey," who "criticized Phoenix for failing to provide a library in its plan for the campus and for the low number of full-time faculty members it proposed."

Apparently they've cut a deal:

This time around, Phoenix has signed an agreement to pay New Jersey City University $25,000 per year to share library resources, added more general-education courses, and required more contact between students and professors. The company also has proposed setting up shop in Jersey City, where it would compete with fewer institutions.

25,000 dollars? A mere pittance, an insult even. The university lies in ruins, and in come the carpetbaggers of the digital age. Where do I sign up and how do I cash in?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 08:54 AM

*shrug* Credentialing? I could probably teach half the UW library school staff XML. Maybe more than half. But I can't (easily) get a digital-library job without that MLS. I can whine about it, or I can get the MLS and learn other things from the experience.

Credentialing is a stupid, pointless fact of life.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 27, 2003 10:17 AM

the _washington_post_ page requires
a login. not as obnoxious as requiring
an actual subscription, i know --
but maybe you could follow the very great
libarian.net by just posting a password
for all of your readers?

u of phoenix? the devil made digital.
has anybody mentioned david noble?
for example? also

Posted by: vlorbik at June 27, 2003 10:28 AM

Would someone just up and pull the plug on the humanities? Good lord, it's been on suicide watch for the last forty years, and it ain't gettin' any younger or healthier, so let's draw the humanities a bath, give it a sharp knife, and leave it alone for a few hours.

That ain't gonna happen, though, which is why the carpetbaggers aren't carpetbaggers at all; they're the solution to a problem that refuses to be recognized as such.

Posted by: Cameron at June 27, 2003 12:38 PM

Perhaps it's not competition, but the University of Phoenix model is certainly encouraging other schools to follow in its steps. My large state school's for-profit adult education wing offers many of the same first- and second-year courses that its parent institution does, which students scrambling for overenrolled courses often see as a good thing. It even offers online versions of the courses, where students never see the teachers -- and the teachers are seldom professors. I've taught two courses for this place, one online, the other in the classroom.

Here's the rub: for the online course I taught, which carried as many credits and was identical in every way to the classroom version, I was paid the same pittance as I was for the classroom course. The university supplied no extra resources, computer or otherwise, for the online course. But they charged students twice as much to to take it. That's 100% profit for adult education: certainly a compelling business model, no?

Posted by: Mike at June 27, 2003 12:48 PM

Yes, it is indeed a compelling business model. Does anyone know if U. of P. is listed on one of the stock exchanges? If they are, I'm in.

Posted by: Chris at June 27, 2003 04:14 PM

"Does anyone know if U. of P. is listed
on one of the stock exchanges?"

Apollo Group the parent company of the University of Phoenix trades on the NASDAQ under APOL.

Posted by: Accidentadmin at June 27, 2003 04:41 PM

"If they are, I'm in."

Me too. This is the future of higher ed.: how do we get in on the ground floor and cash in before everyone else has figured it out?

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 05:36 PM

May I offer a suggestion? Make the classroom doors accessible only by putting a dollar into a slot. Not only will it teach the students, in a graphic way, the correlation between money and education, but it will provide that extra little bit of revenue that can, in the end, add up to a longer yacht. (If you like the idea, you may show your appreciation by naming a program or small building in my honor.)

Posted by: language hat at June 27, 2003 07:03 PM

"Make the classroom doors accessible only by putting dollar into a slot."

Nice! There's a building with your name on it.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 07:06 PM

All joking aside, that's not the worst idea I've ever heard. The kids I had to fail while I was teaching... maybe if they'd had it impressed upon them just how much *money* they were wasting, they'd have put in a smidge more effort?

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 27, 2003 10:16 PM