University of Phoenix
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University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix logo.png
MottoWe Rise
TypeFor-profit college
PresidentPeter Cohen[1]
Academic staff
Administrative staff
Students100,500+ (2016-17) [2]
Location, ,
United States (headquarters)
Campus locations40 campuses and online[3]
FounderJohn Sperling

The University of Phoenix (UOPX) is a for-profit university headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. Founded in 1976, the university confers certificates and degrees in over 100 certificate programs[4] and degree programs at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels.[5] It is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.[6] In 2017, it was acquired by Apollo Global Management, an American private equity firm.[7]

The University of Phoenix claimed a peak enrollment of more than 470,000 students in 2010,[8] but its numbers have declined sharply since then. Enrollment was 142,500 on August 31, 2016.[9] The university has an open enrollment admission policy, requiring a high-school diploma, GED, or its equivalent as its criteria for admissions.[10]

University of Phoenix has been under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission since 2015.[11]



The University of Phoenix was founded by John Sperling and John D. Murphy [12] in 1976, where the first class consisted of eight students.[13] In 1980, the school expanded to San Jose, California, and in 1989, the university launched its online program.[14]

Apollo Group as a Publicly Traded Corporation (1994-2016)

In 1994, University of Phoenix leaders made the decision to take the parent company, Apollo Group, public. Phoenix had more than 100,000 students within the first five years of going public.[15][16] 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."[17]

In 2008, the university was the top recipient of student financial aid funds, receiving nearly $2.48 billion.[18] For the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the University of Phoenix student body received more Pell Grant money ($656.9 million) than any other university.[19]

In 2010, University of Phoenix had an enrollment of more than 470,000 students with revenues of $4.95 billion. [20]

Between 2010 and 2016, enrollment declined more than 70 percent[21][22][23][24] amid multiple investigations, lawsuits and controversies.[25][26][27][28]

Year Enrollment Revenues
2009 443,000 3,766,600
2010 470,800 4,498,300
2011 380,800 4,322,670
2012 328,000 3,882,980
2013 301,100 3,304,464
2014 251,500 2,632,949
2015 190,700 2,148,312
2016 142,500 1,631,412

University of Phoenix as a subsidiary of Apollo Global Management (2016-present)

In February 2016, the 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, would become chairman.[29] 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.[26][30][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 was required to provide a letter of credit for up to $385 million.[35]

Apollo Education is one of Apollo Global Management's more than 50 assets under management. [36]


The main campus is located in the city of Phoenix, Arizona. However, most students are participating online.[37]

School locations and student populations

  • Arizona 103,975 (3 locations and online)
  • California 9,832 (27 locations)
  • Colorado 261 (2 locations)
  • Florida 699 (4 locations)
  • Georgia 470 (3 locations)
  • Hawaii 741 (2 locations)
  • Illinois 146 (1 location)
  • Kentucky 18 (closed)
  • Louisiana 56 (closed)
  • Maryland 32 (closed)
  • Missouri 74 (closed)
  • Nevada 554 (1 location)
  • New Jersey 111 (1 location)
  • New Mexico 266 (2 locations)
  • North Carolina 157 (1 location)
  • Pennsylvania 143 (1 location)
  • Puerto Rico 67 (closed)
  • South Carolina 38 (closed)
  • Tennessee 204 (2 locations)
  • Texas 1,600 (6 locations)
  • Utah 322 (1 location)
  • Virginia 295 (2 locations)
  • Washington 162 (1 location)
  • Washington, DC 71 (closed)

Campus closings

At its peak, University of Phoenix had more than 500 campuses and learning sites. The school currently has about 40 campuses and learning sites. [38]

In 2016 the University of Phoenix indicated plans to shrink from 91 campuses to 67.[39] As of October 2016, University of Phoenix had closed or was in the process of closing 150 physical sites, including UOPX-Canada located in Burnaby, BC.[9]

In 2018, University of Phoenix reported about 40 operating campuses, with more than 25 not taking new students.[3]

University of Phoenix campuses will be closing in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Columbia, South Carolina, Detroit, El Paso, Honolulu, Jersey City, Philadelphia, Tucson, Virginia Beach, and several locations in California and Florida.[40]


  • 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

In addition to its 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.[41]

Students spend 20 to 24 hours with an instructor during each course. The university requires students to collaborate by working on learning team projects, wherein the class is divided into learning 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.[42]

Online education

Students have access to class-specific online resources, which include an electronic library, textbooks, and other ancillary material required for a course. The university says that the electronic textbooks include search features and hyperlinks to glossary terms that make the books easier to use for research.[43]

Through its online portal, eCampus, students also have access to software required for coursework. Students have access to virtual companies created by the university to provide students with assignments, which Adam Honea, UOPX's dean and provost, claims are more realistic than those available with case studies.[44] 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.[45]

Some academics and former students argue the abbreviated courses and the use of learning teams result in an inferior education.[46][47] 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."[46]

Corporate training

The university runs a program called "corporate articulation agreements" that allows people who work at some companies to earn college credit for the training they have completed at their jobs. As of December 2015, the university had agreements in place with around 300 companies.[48]

To qualify for college credit, students can either create a professional training portfolio or write an "experiential essay".[48] A professional training portfolio is a collection of documents such as transcripts from other schools, certificates, licenses, workshops or seminars.[49]

Admissions and financial aid

The University of Phoenix has an open admissions policy, which means that the school is accessible to anyone with a high school diploma, GED, or its equivalent.[50] In 2010, the university began an orientation program designed to lower dropout and default rates.[51] Students must successfully complete a three-week orientation workshop in order to be eligible to start their first credit/cost bearing course.[52]

Prior to 2010, Phoenix recruited students using high-pressure sales tactics, including making claims that classes were filling fast,[53] by admissions counselors who are paid, in part, based on their success in recruiting students.[47] Since 2010, changes were implemented to the way the university recruits students.[54]

The university recruits students and obtains financial aid on their behalf,[53] 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.[55]

Student Outcomes

In 2013, USA Today listed University of Phoenix as a "red flag" institution for posting a student loan default rate (26%) that surpassed its graduation rate (17%).[56] A 2010 report found that the University of Phoenix's online graduation rate was only 5 percent.[57]

IN 2013, the University of Phoenix's Detroit campus has a graduation rate of 10%, but a student loan default rate of 26.4%, according to USA Today.[58] Other controversies concern marketing and recruitment practices, instructional hours, being one of the top recipients of student aid, and having a student body that shoulders the most student debt of any college.

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).[59]

In 2016, a Brookings Institution study estimated University of Phoenix's 5-year student loan default rate at 47 percent.[60]


The University of Phoenix has been regionally accredited since 1978 by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

In February 2013, a peer review[61] 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."[62] 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.[63] In July 2015, the Higher Learning Commission removed University of Phoenix from Notice Status.[64]

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 Stadium, a sports stadium in Glendale, Arizona for which the corporation paid for naming rights from 2006 to 2018.

University of Phoenix is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Global Management.[72] Apollo Global purchased their parent company, Apollo Education Group, for approximately $1.1 billion. The university reported enrollment of 176,900 in Q1 2016, compared to 227,400 in Q1 2015. Near the time of sale, Apollo Group was planning to close 150 campuses across the country, and reported a Q1 2016 loss of $45.2 million.[73]


In the early 2010s, Apollo Group, University of Phoenix's former parent company, spent between $376 million and $655 million per year on advertising and marketing, which includes the University of Phoenix brand. Much of this advertising is Internet advertising.[74]

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, and the site of the NCAA's Fiesta Bowl. As a private, for-profit venture, the university does not participate in intercollegiate sports.[75] The company terminated its naming rights deal on April 11, 2017, citing the company's economic difficulties, but their name would remain on the stadium until a replacement company was found to give naming rights to.[76] On September 4, 2018, the stadium's naming rights were acquired by State Farm, succeeding the university in that capacity.[77] However, the Cardinals still designate the university as the official education partner of the team.

In 2016, talk show celebrity Ellen DeGeneres gave 10 scholarships to viewers of her show.[78]

Political and corporate alliances

Several American policymakers have been affiliated with the University of Phoenix and its parent company, Apollo Group. Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has been a member of the Apollo Group Board of Directors.[79] Jane Oates, a former staffer for Senator Ted Kennedy and the Department of Labor, became the Apollo Group's vice president for external in 2013.[80] 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.[81]

University of Phoenix has also had an alliance with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.[82]

In November 2014, University of Phoenix partnered with 47 historically black colleges and universities to offer UoP classes that transfer to these institutions.[83]

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.[84]

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.[85]

Criticism and controversies

Issues related to servicemembers and veterans

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.[86]

Some critics of for-profit higher education have alleged that Apollo Education Group and University of Phoenix "prey upon veterans".[87][88]

In 2013, the US Department of Defense ended its contract with University of Phoenix for military bases in Europe.[89]

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.[90]

Organizational issues

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 into a money making machine whose sole criterion for admission was eligibility for federally funded student loans.[91][92]

Student loan debt

University of Phoenix students owe more than $35 billion in student loan debt, the most of any US college.[93]

In 2014, University of Phoenix was highlighted in a article titled "The 5 Colleges That Leave the Most Students Crippled By Debt."[94]

Lawsuits and investigations

The university has paid several government fines and settled whistle-blower lawsuits concerning its admissions practices and education programs.[95] 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.[46][96]

A 2003 lawsuit filed by two former university recruiters alleged that the university 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.[46] The university's parent company settled by paying the government $67.5 million, plus $11 million in legal fees, without admitting any wrongdoing.[97][98]

In 2004, the Department of Education alleged that UOPX again violated Higher Education Act provisions that prohibit offering financial incentives to admission representatives and pressured its recruiters to enroll students.[99] 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.[53][100][101] 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.[102][103] The University of Phoenix settled a false-claims suit for $78.5 million in 2009 over its recruiter-pay practices.[104]

In 2009, the Department of Education produced a report that claimed 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.[105] 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.[106]

In 2014 the US Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General demanded records from the University of Phoenix and its parent company Apollo Group going back to 2007 "related to marketing, recruitment, enrollment, financial aid, fraud prevention, [and] student retention."[107]

In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense suspended the university'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."[108] Some federal legislators, including U.S. Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Lamar Alexander protested[109] the suspension, which was lifted in January 2016.[110]

In 2016, stockholders of Apollo Education Group filed a class-action lawsuit against the corporation, arguing that the company withheld information that led to significant losses in stock prices. Several of the allegations are related to University of Phoenix's recruiting of military personnel and veterans.[111][112]



The average age of a University of Phoenix undergraduate student is 33. The average graduate student is 36.[113] In 2007-08, the institution stated that nearly two-thirds of its students were women and that a plurality of students attending the school studied business (undergraduate students representing 29.9% and graduate students 12.9%), followed closely by those enrolled in Axia College for associate degrees (28.1%).[114][115]

The university graduates the largest number of underrepresented students with master's degrees in business, health care, and education of any US school.[116][117]

Servicemembers and veterans

In 2016-17, approximately 3,000 students used DOD Tuition Assistance and 13,000 students used GI Bill funds.[118]

The University of Phoenix is a partner of US Army University and has a presence at education centers at the following military bases[119]:


The institution depends heavily on contingent faculty: 95 percent of Phoenix instructors teach part-time, compared to an average of 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.[46][47]

According to the College Navigator, the student to faculty ratio is 38 to 1. [120]

African-Americans make up 19.3 percent of the university's faculty members, and 4.9 percent are Latino [121] Women make up 56% of the faculty.[121]

Adjuncts make approximately $1000-$2000 per course.[122]

In February 2017, after being taken over by Apollo Global Management, University of Phoenix laid off 170 full-time faculty.[123]


More than 1 million alumni are counted as graduates of the university.[124] Phoenix alumni in the government sector include former Obama White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt,[125] former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters (1994),[126] and member of the Utah House of Representatives Brad Dee (1991).[127]

In military and law enforcement, alumni include U.S. Navy Admiral Kirkland H. Donald,[128] and assistant director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Harold Hurtt (1991).[129] Former MSNBC anchor and a host of NBC's Early Today Christina Brown is also an alumna of the university.[130]

Athletes who have earned degrees from the university include four-time NBA Championship-winner Shaquille O'Neal (2005),[131] three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie,[132] professional tennis player Michael Russell (2012).[133] 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 is currently a spokesman for the University of Phoenix[134] and he often tells the story of promising his mother Carol that he would someday graduate from college. She died while he was still enrolled at Pittsburgh.[135]


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Further reading

External links

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