University of Phoenix enrollment drops because of changes to enrollment, recruiting practices

Published: Saturday, Dec. 4 2010 10:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — New enrollment at University of Phoenix, the nation's largest for-profit college, could plunge more than 40 percent as the school changes the way it recruits and retains students in response to mounting criticism. It also announced on Nov. 29 that it has eliminated approximately 700 full-time positions throughout the country as it adjusts to the changes.

Representatives from the University of Phoenix, which has five campuses in Utah, recently met with the Deseret News to explain how the school is changing the way it recruits students. The mostly online school, which has about 470,800 students across the nation and more than 200 campuses, is also implementing new financial counseling and a mandatory orientation for at-risk students.

The changes come at a time in which for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix are increasingly coming under attack. A report released last week found that only 22 percent of full-time students at for-profit schools graduate within six years. Students at public and private nonprofit colleges and universities, by comparison, graduate at rates two to three times higher — 55 and 65 percent respectively.

According to the report, "Subprime Opportunity," by the Education Trust, only 9 percent of first-time, full-time bachelor's degree students graduate within six years. For those who go to Phoenix's online schools, the rate is even worse — only 5 percent graduate within six years.

Another study, also released last week, found that nearly 25 percent of students who graduate from for-profit schools left with debt levels of more than $40,000 in 2008, compared with 5 percent at public schools and 14 percent at private institutions.

Although such numbers don't take into account the part-time students at for-profit schools, they do represent a gap that has brought negative attention to schools like the University of Phoenix, which is taking a proactive approach to reform.

For starters, the school is now separating enrollment results from recruiters' compensation.

Previously the school's compensation for recruiters was based on something called the "Matrix," a collection of various factors that included how many people a recruiter signed up for degree programs.

That has all changed now with a new compensation plan for student advisers, which is what the University of Phoenix calls recruiters. "Effective Sept. 1, 2010, we eliminated any compensation of our enrollment student advisers … tied to enrollment results," University of Phoenix spokesman Ryan Rauzon told the Deseret News. "We are the first to do so among proprietary schools, and it is an important change that is clearly something that regulators and policy makers in Washington want to see."

Rauzon said advisers are evaluated now on the service they provide to a prospective student, particularly their helping a student fully understand the rigors of a degree program.

Admissions personnel were the bulk of the 700 positions recently eliminated at University of Phoenix — including four in Utah — a reduction of about 4.3 percent of its full-time, non-faculty employees. A statement from the university said they have "accelerated the shift in our approach to student admissions, and have refined our business model. These staffing reductions are intended to better align our operations with these business decisions."

N. Darris Howe, the vice president and state director for University of Phoenix's Utah campuses, said the student advisers are to focus on what a student wants, and what degrees are available that would meet those wants. The advisers also explain what would be required to complete the degree and then help prospective students through the application process — including financing.

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