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Education Department questions whether accreditor did enough to review University of Arizona Global Campus

Education Department questions whether accreditor did enough to review University of Arizona Global Campus

Higher Ed Dive

Natalie Schwartz
February 6, 2023
Dive Brief: 
  • The accreditor that authorizes the University of Arizona Global Campus to participate in federal financial aid programs has potentially fallen out of compliance with U.S. Department of Education regulations due to concerns over its monitoring of the online college’s recruiting and admissions practices, according to a recent staff report from the federal agency.
  • UAGC was acquired by the University of Arizona in late 2020. Under its former for-profit ownership, the online college, then named Ashford University, was dogged by complaints that it misled prospective students.
  • Those accusations culminated in a 2017 lawsuit against Ashford and its former owner, a court case it ultimately lost. Although the college’s accreditor, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, has policies requiring it to investigate potential problems with recruiting and admissions, Education Department staff wrote it did not provide evidence that it increased scrutiny in these areas.
Dive Insight: 
WSCUC has historically accredited four-year institutions in California, Hawaii, and U.S. territories Guam and American Samoa. Those colleges include UAGC, which University of Arizona acquired to build its online footprint and attract more adult students.
Even though the online college changed hands, it initially kept close ties to its former owner, Zovio, through a contract for educational services like marketing and recruitment. But the online college terminated its relationship with the company last year, with officials citing a desire to have more control over the institution’s operations.
The decision to cut ties with Zovio came about six months after a California judge found the company had misled students about the cost and career outcomes of Ashford’s programs. One analysis estimated Zovio made 1.2 million misleading phone calls to prospective students between March 2009 and April 2020.
“It is concerning to the Department that UAGC continued to have serious issues with its recruitment and admissions practices at least through the agency’s current review period, yet the agency did not identify these problems at the school,” Education Department staff wrote in the report.
WSCUC first accredited Ashford in 2013 and renewed the institution’s accreditation in 2019. At the time, the agency issued a formal notice of concern over low student persistence and completion rates at the institution.
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