University of Phoenix

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University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix logo.png
TypePrivate for-profit university
Established1976; 45 years ago (1976)
PresidentPeter Cohen[1]
Location, ,
United States (headquarters)
CampusOnline and multiple campuses throughout the United States

University of Phoenix[2] (UoPX) is a private for-profit university with its headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. Founded in 1976, the university confers certificates and degrees at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels. It is institutionally 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] The school is owned by Apollo Global Management, an American private equity firm.[5] 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.[6]


In the late 20th century, the University of Phoenix was considered an innovator in higher education delivery for working adults.[7] The University of Phoenix was founded by John Sperling and John D. Murphy[8] in Phoenix,[9] in 1976, where the first class consisted of eight students.[10] In 1978 it became regionally accredited. In 1980, UoPX expanded to San Jose, California, and in 1989, the university launched its online program.[11] Much of University of Phoenix's revenues came from employers who were subsidizing the higher education of their managers. Academic labor was faced with unbundling, where "various components of the traditional faculty role (e.g., curriculum design) are divided among different entities, while others (e.g., research) are eliminated altogether."[12]

In 1994, the University of Phoenix leaders took the parent company, Apollo Group, public. UoPX enrollment exceeded 100,000 students by 1999.[13][14] Senator Tom Harkin, who chaired hearings on for-profit colleges, said "I think what really turned this company is when they started going to Wall Street."[15] This sentiment was echoed by University of Phoenix co-founder John D. Murphy in his book Mission Forsaken: The University of Phoenix Affair with Wall Street. According to Murphy, in 2004 "the University of Phoenix abandoned its founding mission of solely serving working adult learners to admit virtually anyone with a high school diploma or GED." In terms of revenues, UoPX began relying less on corporate assistance and more on government funding.[16] In 2007, the New York Times reported that the school's graduation rate had plummeted and that educational quality had been eroded.[17]

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.[18] UoPX was the top recipient of student financial aid funds, receiving nearly $2.48 billion.[19] For the 2008–2009 fiscal year, the University of Phoenix student body received more Pell Grant money ($656.9 million) than any other university.[20] In 2010, the University of Phoenix had an enrollment of more than 470,000 students with revenues of $4.95 billion.[21] A 2010 report found that the UoPX online graduation rate was only 5 percent. The same report noted "that for students seeking associate degrees, for-profit colleges’ three-year graduation rate of 60 percent is considerably higher than the 22 percent rate at public community colleges," and that “it is unreasonable to expect nontraditional college students to complete their studies within an arbitrary, predetermined time frame, especially when we know those students take longer to finish their degrees because they have families and professional obligations."[22]

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.[23] On September 4, 2018, the stadium's naming rights were acquired by State Farm.[24]

University of Phoenix Stadium, a sports stadium in Glendale, Arizona that the corporation paid for naming rights from 2006 to 2018.

In a December 2010 Bloomberg article, former University of Phoenix Senior Vice President Robert W. Tucker noted that “at critical junctures, [co-founder] John [Sperling] chose growth over academic integrity, which ultimately diminished a powerful educational model."[25]

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.[26]

Between 2010 and 2016, enrollment declined more than 70 percent[27] amid multiple investigations, lawsuits and controversies.[28][29][30][31] 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.[32] 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.[33] In 2014, the University of Phoenix partnered with 47 historically black colleges and universities to offer UoPX classes that transfer to these institutions.[34] The University of Phoenix claimed a peak enrollment of more than 470,000 students in 2010,[35] but its numbers have declined sharply since then. Enrollment was 142,500 on August 31, 2016,[36] and 119,938 in the 2016–17 school year. UoPX was under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission from 2015 to 2020.[37] While University of Phoenix gave up its naming rights to the pro football stadium in Phoenix, it continued to spend tens of millions of dollars on marketing and advertising, including $27 million on internet paid search advertising.[38] Brookings Institution reported that UoPX spent $76 million on advertising in 2017.[39]

In February 2016, Apollo Group announced its sale 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.[40] 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.[29][41][42][43][44] 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.[45] In February 2017, after the takeover by Apollo Global Management, University of Phoenix laid off 170 full-time faculty.[46] 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. Education Department officials cited pending litigation as a reason why they have not approved or denied any of the borrower defense claims.[47] According to the 2019 academic report, degreed enrollment was 87,400.[48]

In March 2020, the US Department of Veterans Affairs announced that they had suspended certification for GI Bill funds for new students at University of Phoenix, citing a history of deceptive recruiting practices.[49] The VA withdrew its threat of sanctions in July 2020.[50] In 2020, University of Phoenix received $6.5 million in CARES Act funding[51] and $7.4 million in the second round of Covid relief funds.[52] In 2020, University of Phoenix began experimenting with the idea of micro-campuses, giving the centers a "WeWork vibe."[53] In 2020, Washington Monthly rated University of Phoenix 272nd in national university rankings.[54] In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission began distributing checks to more than 100,000 former students who were enrolled from 2012 to 2016 when UoPX was using deceptive advertising.[55] In 2021, Bloomberg reported that Apollo's higher education investment had gained about 50 percent in value: from its $634 million initial investment to $956 million today.[56] The school also received $3,417,845 in aid through the American Rescue Plan.[57] In 2021, University of Phoenix continued to close campuses, including Atlanta and Salt Lake City.[58]

As of 2021 the campus in Phoenix, Arizona is the only location left accepting new in person students. [59]

University of Phoenix is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Global Management.[60] 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 (now closed) and Career Education Corporation (now known as Perdoceo).[61]


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,[62] by admissions counselors who are paid, in part, based on their success in recruiting students.[63] The university recruits students and obtains financial aid on their behalf,[62] 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.[64] In the 2017–18 award year, 51,990 University of Phoenix students received the Federal Pell Grant.[65]

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.[66] 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.[67]

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.[68][63] 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."[68] 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".[69] The portfolio is a collection of documents such as transcripts from other schools, certificates, licenses, workshops or seminars.[70]


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."[71] 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.[72] In July 2015, the Higher Learning Commission removed University of Phoenix from Notice Status.[73]

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.

Student life[edit]

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.[81] In 2018–19, about 2,000 students used US Department of Defense Tuition Assistance and 11,000 students used GI Bill funds.[82] The University of Phoenix has been a partner of US Army University and has had a presence at a few military education bases.[83]

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.[68][63] Adjuncts earn approximately $1000–$2000 per course.[84] Approximately 21 cents of every tuition dollar is spent on instruction.[85]

According to the College Navigator the student to faculty ratio is 70 to 1 in the Arizona segment.[86] College Navigator reports 127 full-time and 5,353 part-time faculty in its Arizona segment; full-time faculty make up 2 percent of the total faculty.[87] 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.[88] African-Americans make up 19.3 percent of the university's faculty members, and 4.9 percent are Latino [89] Women make up 56% of the faculty.[89]

According to the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, the University of Phoenix's average annual cost is $15,123, and the average attendee earned $19,900 (teaching assistant AA) to $86,100 a year (BS in nursing). The institution's graduation rate was listed at 28%.[90] In 2016, a Brookings Institution study estimated University of Phoenix's 5-year student loan default rate at 47 percent.[91] The US Department of Education's College Navigator lists University of Phoenix's overall graduation rate at 15 percent.[92] According to the College Scorecard, of student debtors two years into repayment, 32 percent were in forbearance, 28 percent were not making progress, 13 percent were in deferment, 11 percent defaulted, 7 percent were making progress, 5 percent were delinquent, 2 percent were paid in full, and 1 percent were discharged.[93]


The main campus is in Phoenix, Arizona, but most students participate online.[94] At its peak, University of Phoenix operated more than 500 campuses and learning sites.[95] Now the university is focusing on opening new resource centers for online students, which provide spaces for alumni to network and current students to seek assistance from professors and peers.[96]

  • 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
  • International Campus, established in 1998, Vancouver Campus,[97] British Columbia, Canada


University of Phoenix is ranked 386th out of 391 schools in the 2021 Washington Monthly list of national universities.[98]

Alumni and affiliations[edit]

More than 1 million alumni are counted as graduates of the university.[99] Phoenix alumni in the government sector include former Obama White House cyber security deposit coordinator Howard Schmidt,[100] former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters (1994),[101] and member of the Utah House of Representatives Brad Dee (1991).[102] 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,[103] and assistant director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Harold Hurtt (1991).[104] Former MSNBC anchor and a host of NBC's Early Today Christina Brown is also an alumna of the university.[105]

Athletes who have earned degrees from the university include four-time NBA Championship-winner Shaquille O'Neal (2005),[106] three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie,[107] professional tennis player Michael Russell (2012),[108] 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 began college in 2002 at the University of Pittsburgh.) He was a spokesman for the University of Phoenix[109] and told the story of promising his mother Carol that he would someday graduate from college. She died while he was still enrolled at Pittsburgh.[110]

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.[111] 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.[112] 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.[113] University of Phoenix has community partnerships with Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the American Red Cross, and the Junior League.[114] 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.[115] 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: Anthony W. Miller and Martin Nesbitt.[41] In 2019, University of Phoenix's parent company, Apollo Education Group, was the third largest higher education lobby. Apollo Education Group has 18 lobbyists at the federal level.[116] In 2021, University of Phoenix demanded that the Republican Attorneys General Association refund a donation of more than $50,000 after the organization was allegedly involved in instigating the attack at the U.S. Capitol.[117]

Criticism and controversies[edit]

The University of Phoenix has been the largest recipient of federal GI Bill tuition benefits[118] and the largest for-profit recipient by Pell Grant assistance funding.[119] For the 2008–2009 fiscal year, its student body received more Pell Grant money than any other university. The university's graduation rate is 17 percent, according to federal data that measures first-time, full-time (FTFT) undergraduate students who complete their programs at 150% of the normal time.[120]

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, most recently in a 2019 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.[121] The University of Phoenix said in a statement that much of the 2019 FTC settlement focused on a single ad campaign that ran from 2012 to 2014, under prior ownership. It said it agreed to the settlement deal to avoid any further distraction from serving students, and admitted no wrongdoing through the duration of the settlement.[6]

From 2009 to 2015, the University of Phoenix received an estimated $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.[122] Some critics of for-profit higher education have alleged that Apollo Education Group and University of Phoenix "prey upon veterans".[123][124] In 2013, the US Department of Defense ended its contract with University of Phoenix for military bases in Europe.[125] 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.[126]

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.[127]

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.[128][129]

University of Phoenix students owe more than $35 billion in student loan debt, the most of any US college.[130] In 2014, the school was highlighted in an article in Money entitled "The 5 Colleges That Leave the Most Students Crippled By Debt".[131] According to the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard, approximately 28 percent are repaying their loans.[81]

On March 9, 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs suspended G.I. Bill reimbursement eligibility for University of Phoenix and several other for-profit schools due to what the V.A. said were "erroneous, deceptive, or misleading enrollment and advertising practices", giving the schools 60 days to take "corrective action".[132]

Lawsuits and investigations[edit]

The university has paid several government fines and settled whistle-blower lawsuits concerning its admissions practices and education programs.[133] 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.[68][134]

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.[68] The university's parent company settled by paying the government $67.5 million, plus $11 million in legal fees, without admitting any wrongdoing.[135][136]

In 2004, the Department of Education alleged that UOPX again violated Higher Education Act provisions that prohibit financial incentives to admission representatives, and pressured its recruiters to enroll students.[137] 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.[62][138][139] 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.[140][141] The University of Phoenix settled a false-claims suit for $78.5 million in 2009 over its recruiter-pay practices.[142]

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.[143] 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.[144]

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".[145] Also in 2014, Arthur Green, a former UoPX enrollment advisor, sued the school, claiming that it was violating the US False Claims Act. According to Green, he was fired for blowing the whistle on billions of dollars in fraud.[146][147] Five years later, the case was dismissed in 2019 after the US Department of Justice under William Barr decided not to take the case and the records were sealed.[148]

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."[149] Some federal legislators, including U.S. Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Lamar Alexander, protested[150] the suspension, which was lifted in January 2016.[151]

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began investigating the university in 2015 in regard to an advertising campaign it ran in 2012 through 2014, a campaign referred to as "Let's Get to Work".[152] 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.[152] 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."[153] The institution admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which was at the time the largest FTC settlement against a for-profit school.[152]

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.[154][155] In 2016, the US Department of Education lost a case by former University of Phoenix student Phyllis Price, which alleged that UoPX admitted her and others without proof of requisite credentials, such as a high school degree.[156]

In December 2019, the university reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.[121] The University of Phoenix said in a statement that much of the 2019 FTC settlement focused on a single ad campaign that ran from 2012 to 2014, under prior ownership. It said it agreed to the settlement deal to avoid any further distraction from serving students, and admitted no wrongdoing through the duration of the settlement.[6][157]


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°24′08″N 111°57′58″W / 33.402339°N 111.966163°W / 33.402339; -111.966163