In 2008, Altius Education, a for-profit education company based in San Francisco, California and Tiffin University, a small private institution in Ohio, created Ivy Bridge College. The online, two-year degree program has been troubled over accreditation woes, and Tiffin decided to drop Ivy Bridge.
According to Paul Fain of Inside Higher Ed, Altius Education recently received a notice from the U.S. Department of Justice that the company is now under federal investigation.
According to Paul Freedman, Altius’s founder and CEO, the federal inquiry may be related to questions Ivy Bridge’s accreditor raised about institutional control of the program. The “false claims” investigation likely revolves around students’ access to federal financial aid.
The notice was the culmination of a more than two-year battle between Altius and the Higher Learning Commission, one of two members of the 118-year-old North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which controls accreditation — the vital credential that gives college degrees value — for over 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states, according to Matthew Zeitlin and Ben Smith of BuzzFeed.
Ivy Bridge, which was designed to be controlled academically by Tiffin, issued Tiffin degrees while Altius did marketing, technology, and provided student services like “personal success coaches.” The program had an emphasis on students transferring to four-year schools and had agreements with over 150 to accept its students.
In 2011, Tiffin President Paul Marion told Insider Higher Ed: “We weren’t going to cheapen or degrade our academic quality or our admissions processes or anything like that… If we’d have been forced to drop our admissions standards or water down our curriculum, then we would have backed out.”
Higher Learning Commission President Sylvia Manning, a Victorian literature scholar and former chancellor of the University of Illinois at Chicago, had launched a crusade against what she viewed as suspect partnerships between traditional universities and for-profit upstarts. Manning instituted new rules in 2010 to require further HLC approval of agreements between accredited schools and for-profit companies that substantially changed the nature of the school.
Earlier this month, Gigaom.com reported that accreditors had discounted Ivy Bridge, an online associates-degree program, after raising questions about its business structure.
The Ivy Bridge closure will likely have a negative impact on online education programs’ partnership campaigns as it “could make schools considering similar options more wary.”
The Ivy Bridge program in 2012 reportedly enrolled about 2,000 of Tiffin’s 6,900 students.