University of Phoenix Partners with HBCU, But Critics Skeptical


For-profit college University of Phoenix has partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) in an effort to offer more online courses to Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The partnership announced last week by TMCF, the non-profit organization that advocates for HBCUs, was greeted with a great deal of skepticism, partially due to the low graduation rate, especially among black students, that Phoenix touts.

Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania who is also in charge of a center that studies institutions serving minorities, said that a number of her colleagues, as well as HBCU leaders she has spoken with, are all unsure of the decision, reports Natali Rivers for Uptown.

According to the announcement, the deal will offer courses that students do not have access to through traditional offerings on campus.  HBCUs are not typically known for having an extensive online course catalogue, and HBCU schools will be able to build their online courses through the University of Phoenix’s platform.  According to Buzzfeed, students at HBCUs tend to enjoy online courses better due to their flexibility and cheaper price.  Because many students also hold down jobs, online courses allow them to study at home on a flexible schedule.

Dr. Janet Guyden, vice president academic and student affairs at Grambling State University, approves of the partnership, saying that Phoenix has “literally written the book on educating Black students online.”

But Gasman maintains that Phoenix has a lower graduation rate for black students than HBCUs, with data from the federal government showing the average graduation rate within six years for HBCUs, who do enroll some non-black students as well, to be 36%, while the graduation rate for black students at Phoenix is just 15%.  Despite this, Phoenix still generates the highest number of black graduates of all institutions.

“I am much more comfortable with an HBCU offering online courses that they develop, maybe with expertise from online providers, rather than them partnering with an institution that has, quite frankly, made its money on the back of black and brown students,” Gasman said.

Critics also argue that Phoenix targets low-income students who graduate with high amounts of student debt and degrees that do not result in job offers.  Earlier this year, for-profit Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy.  A number of former students said the school promised them careers, but in the end all they had was a load of debt and a degree from a non-existent college.

A federal judge ordered Corinthian to pay $550 million to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the college was accused of pushing its students to take out more loans and inflating its graduation rate.

Apollo Group, the parent company of Phoenix, reported losses totaling $18.5 million this quarter.  More recently, the University of Phoenix was banned from enrolling military personnel and is currently experiencing a decline in enrollment, writes Manny Otiko for The Atlanta Black Star.

However, Georgetown University professor Richard America estimates that at least half of the 107 HBCUs across the country are in trouble, and the partnership with Phoenix may be the only way for these colleges to survive.