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

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

The second change is a new university orientation program, which began Nov. 1. All new students at University of Phoenix who come in with less than 24 credit hours — roughly a year of college — are required to take a free two-hour-a-day three-week-long orientation class.

The orientation lasts three weeks because the university saw a significant number of students drop out of various degree programs in that three-week window. "Life, you could say, got in the way," Rauzon said. "In those three weeks students would come to terms with how hard the degree course was or if their jobs or family obligation got in the way. This university orientation three-week course now prepares students to walk in the door and start their degree program with their eyes wide open — knowing what it is going to take from a time commitment and from a life change to complete their program."

Meredith Curley, the dean of education for University of Phoenix's college of education, said the three-week orientation also helps student get to know faculty and computer systems.

The result is that one in five of the people who go through the free orientation class decide not to sign up for a degree program, which explains the university's recent temporary enrollment drop. Those that remain are theoretically more likely to continue on with their studies once they start their degree program.

The third change addresses critics who say students take on a lot of debt without understanding what impact that could have on their lives. "We agree," Rauzon said.

The Pew study that came out last week found that in almost every field of study, "students at private for-profit schools are more likely to borrow and tend to borrow larger amounts than students at public and private not-for-profit schools."

In response, the University of Phoenix says it is now offering better financial aid counseling and is encouraging students to only take on debt that they can pay off. The school's website explains that its "financial literacy program" gives students a set of tools to better understand the direct and indirect costs of their education. One tool is a financial aid calculator for students to "better manage debt levels." The website claims that since University of Phoenix launched these tools, the number of students who take out the maximum loan amount has dropped by about 30 percent.

"We are effectively starting now, prolonging the preparation time, this kind of ramp-up before a prospective student becomes an enrolled student. And that carries with it some implications to how many students we enroll," Rauzon said.

In the first quarter of fiscal 2011, Rauzon said, they are anticipating a 40 percent decline year-over-year in new degreed enrollment (not total current enrollment). "There is a short-term negative financial impact," he said. "We hope it will provide a stable platform for long-term growth, with better students prepared to complete their programs."

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com

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