June 3, 2022
The head of one of the largest for-profit universities in the country resigned months after taking the post.
George Burnett was appointed the president of the University of Phoenix in February, and at the time, the university spoke highly of his “deep understanding of our purpose of helping working adults acquire a higher education.”
Documents obtained exclusively by USA TODAY show that Burnett’s departure came after an inquiry by the Department of Education.
The department questioned Burnett’s time overseeing Westwood College, a for-profit college based in Westminster, Colorado, that had run-ins with federal and state regulators over deceptive advertising among other concerns. Some of those cases helped lead to the federal government canceling $130 million in student loan debt tied to the deception of Westwood College students.
The department’s requests included questions about how long Burnett worked at the college and its parent company, Alta Colleges, and about his role in the school’s advertisements, recruitment strategies and job placement reports. Burnett was also the CEO of Alta Colleges.
The department said it found credible evidence that admissions officers at Westwood were trained to use “emotional triggers” when talking to potential students and that they were “trained, directed, or encouraged to not take ‘No’ for an answer from the prospective student.”
“Did you participate in or attend Westwood’s training sessions for its admissions representatives?” read one of the 17 questions sent to Burnett.
Andrea Smiley, a spokeswoman for the university, confirmed that Burnett had departed and that Chris Lynne, the university’s chief financial officer, will serve as interim president. Smiley also confirmed the Education Department’s inquiry.