University of Phoenix

The University of Phoenix (UOPX) is a for-profit university headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. Founded in 1976, the school confers certificates and degrees in over 100 certificate programs[2] and degree programs at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels. It is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission[3] and has an open enrollment admission policy, accepting all applicants with a high-school diploma, GED, or its equivalent as sufficient for admission.[4] In 2017, the school's parent company, Apollo Education, was acquired by Apollo Global Management, an American private equity firm.[5]

University of Phoenix
TypeFor-profit college
PresidentPeter Cohen[1]
Location, ,
United States (headquarters)

It is the largest recipient of federal GI Bill tuition benefits[6] and the largest for-profit recipient by Pell Grant assistance funding.[7] For the 2008–2009 fiscal year, its student body received more Pell Grant money than any other university. A 2010 report found that the university's online graduation rate was only 5 percent.

The university has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and settlements concerning its student recruiting practices and education programs, particularly including deceptive advertising to prospective students.[8]


The University of Phoenix was founded by John Sperling and John D. Murphy[9] in 1976, where the first class consisted of eight students.[10] In 1980, UoPX expanded to San Jose, California, and in 1989, the university launched its online program.[11]

Apollo Group as a publicly traded corporation (1994–2016)

In 1994, the University of Phoenix leaders decided to take the parent company, Apollo Group, public. UoPX enrollment exceeded 100,000 students by 1999.[12][13] According to Senator Tom Harkin, who chaired hearings on for-profit colleges, "I think what really turned this company is when they started going to Wall Street."[14] In 2008, UoPX was the top recipient of student financial aid funds, receiving nearly $2.48 billion.[15] For the 2008–2009 fiscal year, the University of Phoenix student body received more Pell Grant money ($656.9 million) than any other university.[16] In 2010, the University of Phoenix had an enrollment of more than 470,000 students with revenues of $4.95 billion.[17] A 2010 report found that the UoPX online graduation rate was only 5 percent.[18]

Enrollment declines (2010–2016)

Between 2010 and 2016, enrollment declined more than 70 percent[19] amid multiple investigations, lawsuits and controversies.[20][21][22][23] In August 2011, Apollo group announced it would buy 100% of Carnegie Learning to accelerate its efforts to incorporate adaptive learning into its academic platform.[24] In 2013, USA Today listed UoPX as a "red flag" institution for posting a student loan default rate (26%) surpassing its graduation rate (17%). Other controversies concerned marketing and recruitment practices, instructional hours, being one of the top recipients of student aid, and having a student body shouldering the most student debt of any college.[25] In 2014, the University of Phoenix partnered with 47 historically black colleges and universities to offer UoP classes that transfer to these institutions.[26]

The University of Phoenix claimed a peak enrollment of more than 470,000 students in 2010,[27] but its numbers have declined sharply since then. Enrollment was 142,500 on August 31, 2016.[28] and 119,938 in the 2016–17 school year. UoPX has been under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission since 2015.[29]

YearEnrollmentRevenues (in thousands)

Subsidiary of Apollo Global Management (2016–present)

In February 2016, Apollo Group announced it would be sold to a private investment group made up of Apollo Global Management, the Vistria Group, and the Najafi Companies, for $1 billion. Former U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Anthony W. Miller, partner and chief operating officer of Vistria, became chairman.[30] The sale was approved by both the U.S. Department of Education and the accreditation group the Higher Learning Commission in order to go forward.[21][31][32][33][34] In December 2016, the US Department of Education approved of the sale of Apollo Education Group to Apollo Global Management. The company provided a letter of credit for up to $385 million.[35]

In 2019, former University of Phoenix students, represented by Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Student Lending, were part of a lawsuit against the US Department of Education demanding student loan forgiveness.[36]

Schools and majors

The main campus is in Phoenix, Arizona, but most students participate online.[37] At its peak, University of Phoenix operated more than 500 campuses and learning sites.[38] UoPX campuses will be closing in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Columbia, South Carolina, Detroit, El Paso, Honolulu, Jersey City, Philadelphia, Tucson, Virginia Beach, and several locations in California and Florida.[39]

  • School of Advanced Studies
  • School of Business
  • College of Education
  • College of Health Professions
  • School of Health Services Administration
  • College of Humanities and Sciences
  • College of Information Systems and Technology
  • School of Nursing
  • College of Security and Criminal Justice
  • College of Social Sciences

Besides traditional education programs, the school offers continuing education courses for teachers and practitioners, professional development courses for companies, and specialized courses of study for military personnel.[40] Students spend 20 to 24 hours with an instructor during each course. The university requires students to collaborate on learning team projects, where the class is divided into teams of four to five students. Each learning team is assigned a team forum where team members discuss the project and submit their agreed upon portions of the learning team assignment for compilation by the nominated learning team leader.[41]

Online education and corporate training

Students have access to class-specific online resources, which include an electronic library, textbooks, and other course materials. Some academics and former students argue the abbreviated courses and the use of learning teams result in an inferior education.[42][43] The University of Phoenix has been criticized for lack of academic rigor. Henry M. Levin, a professor of higher education at Teachers College at Columbia University, called its business degree an "MBA Lite", saying "I've looked at [its] course materials. It's a very low level of instruction."[42] The university runs a program called "corporate articulation agreements" that allow people working at other companies to earn college credit for training they have completed at their jobs. To qualify for college credit, students can either create a professional training portfolio or write an "experiential essay".[44] The portfolio is a collection of documents such as transcripts from other schools, certificates, licenses, workshops or seminars.[45]

Admissions and financial aid

The University of Phoenix has an open admissions policy, which means it is accessible to anyone with a high school diploma, GED, or its equivalent. Prior to 2010, Phoenix recruited students using high-pressure sales tactics, including making claims that classes were filling fast,[46] by admissions counselors who are paid, in part, based on their success in recruiting students.[43] The university recruits students and obtains financial aid on their behalf,[46] such as the Academic Competitiveness Grant, Federal Pell Grant, National Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant), Federal Direct Student Loan Program, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Direct PLUS Loans, Federal Perkins Loan, and the Wounded Warrior Project.[47]

Student outcomes

According to the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, the University of Phoenix's average annual cost was $18,007 (about average). In 2015, the average attendee had earned $47,100 a year (above average). The institution's graduation rate was 17% (significantly below average).[48] According to the current College Scorecard, University of Phoenix-Arizona, which includes the online segment, has a graduation rate of 15 percent and a student loan repayment rate of 28 percent. The average salary after attending has not changed from 2015.[49] In 2016, a Brookings Institution study estimated University of Phoenix's 5-year student loan default rate at 47 percent.[50]


The University of Phoenix has been regionally accredited since 1978 by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC). In February 2013, a peer review group recommended to the HLC that the university be put on probation because the University of Phoenix "has insufficient autonomy relative to its parent corporation."[51] On May 9, 2013, the Apollo Group filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission which stated that the HLC Institutional Actions Council First Committee ("IACFC") had recommended to the HLC that the university retain its regional accreditation, but that the university be placed on "notice" for two years. Their concerns centered on the university's governance, student assessment, and faculty scholarship in relation to Ph.D. programs.[52] In July 2015, the Higher Learning Commission removed University of Phoenix from Notice Status.[53]

Some individual colleges within the University of Phoenix hold specialty accreditation or are pre-accredited by accrediting agencies that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Organization and administration

University of Phoenix is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Global Management.[61] Apollo Global purchased their parent company, Apollo Education Group, for approximately $1.1 billion. The President of University of Phoenix is Peter Cohen. Mr. Cohen previously worked at McGraw-Hill Education. The Chief Academic Officer at University of Phoenix is John Woods. Dr. Woods previously worked at two other for-profit college companies: Harrison College and Career Education Corporation.[62]


In 2008, Pereira & O'Dell became the lead ad agency for the University of Phoenix for a reported $220 million. The firm was also the ad agency for Lego and Yahoo.[63]

In the early 2010s, Apollo Group, the University of Phoenix's former parent company, spent between $376 million and $655 million per year on advertising and marketing, which included the University of Phoenix brand. Much of the advertising was Internet advertising.[64] In 2010, the university paid $154.5 million for 20-year naming rights for advertising purposes of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a municipal sports arena, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. The company terminated its naming rights deal on April 11, 2017, citing the company's economic difficulties.[65] On September 4, 2018, the stadium's naming rights were acquired by State Farm.[66] However, the Cardinals still designate the university as the official education partner of the team.

In 2012, Arnold Worldwide took over for Pereira & O' Dellafter as the ad agency for the University of Phoenix.[67]

  • (2013) Financial guru Suze Orman was hired to provide a personal finance class to University of Phoenix students.[68]
  • (2013) The University of Phoenix was a co-sponsor of Advancing the Dream at the Apollo Theater.[69]
  • (2014) An ad featured a girl wanting to be an astronaut, and connected a University of Phoenix education with careers. The commercial was narrated by actress Phylicia Rashad.[70]

In 2016, 180LA took over for Arnold Worldwide as the ad agency for the University of Phoenix.[71]

  • (2016) The University of Phoenix began its "We Rise" campaign appropriating the words of Maya Angelou.[72] One of its advertisements used an updated version of the song "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz.[73] Talk show celebrity Ellen DeGeneres also gave 10 scholarships to viewers of her show.[74]
  • (2017) University of Phoenix marketing campaigns highlighted female empowerment and immigration.[75][76] In one commercial, the "We Can Do It" campaign appropriated Rosie the Riveter.[77]
  • (2018) The University of Phoenix highlighted the school as an innovator in the 1970s, giving working adults greater access to higher education.[78]

In 2019, 180LA created a campaign called "Discover Your Wings", a fantastical story that targets busy parents. According to the marketing firm "the dragon's story parallels the struggles University of Phoenix students face each and every day  handling daily duties and making a living yet still striving to get an education to better their station in life."[79] The University of Phoenix also advertised on the finale of the TV show, The Big Bang Theory.[80] In June 2019, University of Phoenix reported that they had transferred their $188 million marketing budget to TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles and RAPP.[81]

Political and corporate alliances

Several American policymakers have been affiliated with the University of Phoenix and Apollo Education. Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has been a member of the Apollo Group Board of Directors.[82] Jane Oates, a former staffer for Senator Ted Kennedy and the Department of Labor, became the Apollo Group's vice president for external relations in 2013.[83] US Representative Nancy Pelosi's close friendship with University of Phoenix founder John Sperling has been documented by Suzanne Mettler in her book Degrees of Inequality.[84] University of Phoenix has community partnerships with Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the American Red Cross, and the Junior League.[85] In 2016, University of Phoenix partnered with the ASIS Foundation to provide scholarships for students studying for security-related degrees. In March 2016, the first ten scholarship recipients were announced.[86] In 2017, Vistria Group was part of the deal with Apollo Global Management to take over the schools. Vistria included two friends of former President Barack Obama: Tony Miller and Martin Nesbitt.[31] In 2019, University of Phoenix's parent company, Apollo Education Group, was the third largest higher education lobby.[87]

Criticism and controversies

Since 2009, the University of Phoenix has received $1.2 billion of federal money issued through the G.I. Bill. The university enrolled almost 50,000 such students in 2014, twice as many as any other institution.[88] Some critics of for-profit higher education have alleged that Apollo Education Group and University of Phoenix "prey upon veterans".[89][90] In 2013, the US Department of Defense ended its contract with University of Phoenix for military bases in Europe.[91] U.S. military commanders at Fort Campbell, Kentucky allowed University of Phoenix representatives to erect advertising and place promotional materials in high-traffic areas. Access was provided in exchange for cash.[92]

In August 2010, an ABC News investigation identified a University of Phoenix recruiter who sought new students from Y-Haven, a homeless shelter in Cleveland, Ohio. When asked for comment, a university spokesperson responded that the recruiter had been terminated, and that "Any such activity is strictly forbidden by our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, and employees who violate this policy face disciplinary action up to and including termination." In a separate telephone conversation with an undercover ABC News producer, another University of Phoenix recruiter falsely claimed that the university's Bachelor of Science in Education degree would be sufficient to qualify the producer to teach in Texas or New York. The recruiter also advised the producer to apply for the largest possible loans from federal financial aid programs.[93]

A co-founder of University of Phoenix, John D. Murphy, wrote in Mission Forsaken (2013) about the school's degeneration from a provider of working adult continuing education programs to a money making machine whose sole criterion for admission was eligibility for federally funded student loans.[94][95]

University of Phoenix students owe more than $35 billion in student loan debt, the most of any US college.[96] In 2014, the school was highlighted in an article in Money entitled "The 5 Colleges That Leave the Most Students Crippled By Debt".[97] According to the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard, approximately 28 percent are repaying their loans.[98]

Lawsuits and investigations

The university has paid several government fines and settled whistle-blower lawsuits concerning its admissions practices and education programs.[99] In 2000, the federal government fined the university $6 million for including study-group meetings as instructional hours. In 2002, the Department of Education relaxed requirements on instructional hours.[42][100]

A 2003 lawsuit filed by two former university recruiters alleged that the school improperly obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid by paying its admission counselors based on the number of students they enrolled, a violation of the Higher Education Act.[42] The university's parent company settled by paying the government $67.5 million, plus $11 million in legal fees, without admitting any wrongdoing.[101][102]

In 2004, the Department of Education alleged that UOPX again violated Higher Education Act provisions that prohibiting financial incentives to admission representatives and pressured its recruiters to enroll students.[103] UOPX disputed the findings but paid a $9.8 million fine as part of a settlement where it admitted no wrongdoing and was not required to return any financial aid funds.[46][104][105] The university also paid $3.5 million to the Department of Labor to settle a violation of overtime compensation regarding hours worked by UOPX's recruiters.[106][107] The University of Phoenix settled a false-claims suit for $78.5 million in 2009 over its recruiter-pay practices.[108]

In 2009, the Department of Education produced a report claiming the untimely return of unearned Title IV funds for more than 10 percent of sampled students. The report also expressed concern that some students register and begin attending classes before completely understanding the implications of enrollment, including their eligibility for student financial aid. In January 2010, the parent company Apollo Group was required to post a letter of credit for $125 million by January 30 of the same year.[109] In 2010, UOPX came under government scrutiny after its Phoenix and Philadelphia campuses were found to have been engaging in deceptive enrollment practices and fraudulent solicitation of FAFSA funds.[110]

In 2014 the US Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General demanded records from the school and Apollo Group going back to 2007 "related to marketing, recruitment, enrollment, financial aid, fraud prevention, [and] student retention".[111]

In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense suspended the school's ability to recruit on U.S. military bases and receive federal funding for educating members of the U.S. military. In describing the suspension, The Washington Post noted that "the decision arrives amid allegations that the university sponsored recruiting events in violation of an executive order preventing for-profit colleges from gaining preferential access to the military."[112] Some federal legislators, including U.S. Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Lamar Alexander protested[113] the suspension, which was lifted in January 2016.[114]

In 2016, Apollo Education Group shareholders filed a class-action lawsuit against the corporation, arguing that it withheld information leading to large losses in stock prices. Several of the allegations related to University of Phoenix's recruiting of military personnel and veterans.[115][116]

On December 10, 2019, the University of Phoenix agreed to pay a settlement of $191 million related to charges that it recruited students using misleading advertisements. NPR reported this amount includes $50 million in cash as well as a $141 million cancellation in student debt, though the cancellations "won't affect student borrowers' obligations for federal or private loans."[117]



According to the College Scorecard, the University of Phoenix student body is 29 percent white, 21 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian, and 33 percent unknown.[98] In 2016-17, about 3,000 students used DOD Tuition Assistance and 13,000 students used GI Bill funds.[118] The University of Phoenix has been a partner of US Army University and has had a presence at a few military education bases.[119]


The institution depends almost entirely on contingent faculty: about 97 percent of Phoenix instructors teach part-time, compared to 47 percent nationwide. This reliance on part-time faculty has been criticized by regulators and academic critics. Most of the classes are centrally crafted and standardized to ensure consistency and to maximize profits. Additionally, no faculty members get tenure.[42][43] Adjuncts earn approximately $1000–$2000 per course.[120] Approximately 21 cents of every tuition dollar is spent on instruction.[121]

According to the College Navigator the student to faculty ratio is 38 to 1.[122] College Navigator reports 231 full-time and 7,211 part-time faculty in its Arizona segment; full-time faculty make up 3.2 percent of the total faculty.[123] In the California segment there are 4 full-time faculty and 1,304 part-time faculty; full-time faculty make up less than 1 percent of faculty.[124] African-Americans make up 19.3 percent of the university's faculty members, and 4.9 percent are Latino [125] Women make up 56% of the faculty.[125]

In February 2017, after the take over by Apollo Global Management, University of Phoenix laid off 170 full-time faculty.[126]


More than 1 million alumni are counted as graduates of the university.[127] Phoenix alumni in the government sector include former Obama White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt,[128] former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters (1994),[129] and member of the Utah House of Representatives Brad Dee (1991).[130] In the private sector, alumni include former MBA Chair at the Forbes School of Business & Technology and radio host Diane Hamilton. In military and law enforcement, alumni include U.S. Navy Admiral Kirkland H. Donald,[131] and assistant director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Harold Hurtt (1991).[132] Former MSNBC anchor and a host of NBC's Early Today Christina Brown is also an alumna of the university.[133]

Athletes who have earned degrees from the university include four-time NBA Championship-winner Shaquille O'Neal (2005),[134] three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie,[135] professional tennis player Michael Russell (2012).[136] and Arizona Cardinals professional NFL football player (wide receiver) Larry Fitzgerald (2016). Fitzgerald graduated with a bachelor's degree shortly before his 33rd birthday. He majored in communications with a minor in marketing. (He began college in 2002 at the University of Pittsburgh.) He was a spokesman for the University of Phoenix[137] and he tells the story of promising his mother Carol that he would someday graduate from college. She died while he was still enrolled at Pittsburgh.[138]


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