|Consumers rate University of Phoenix|
College is a lot of fun. Whether one goes away to a campus or commutes to a local college -- the partying, the learning, and the socializing can all be life-changing experiences.
But not everyone can go to college right after high school, as we all know that life has an interesting way of temporarily knocking you off your planned path. Thankfully, getting a degree online these days is as easy and accessible as downloading a song.
The University of Phoenix (UoP) is generally regarded as standing at the top of this particular area of higher education. It advertises heavily and markets itself as the primary go-to for those who need a more flexible college schedule.
But, like everything else in life, it doesn't always work out just the way consumers expect.
Nearly 800 consumers have complained to ConsumerAffairs about their experience, claiming they were overbilled, didn't have online access to classes they paid for or just didn't find the courses useful.
ConsumerAffairs conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of about 72,000 comments posted to social media over the last year and found consumers' perception of University of Phoenix hovering around the 50% positive mark.
It's not just consumers who've raised objections. The University of Phoenix has paid fair share of fines and penalties over the years.
UoP was forced to pay a sum of $6 million to the federal government in 2000, for including study-group meetings in its instructional hours. This allowed the school to receive federal aid, but didn't meet federal Department of Education (DOE) regulations.
$9.8 million fine
In 2004, UoP paid a whopping $9.8 million fine for violating the Higher Education Act, which among other things prohibits schools from paying their admission reps financial bonuses for recruiting students. Two admission employees of the online school alleged that they were paid according to the amount of students they recruited.
The online university has also been accused of making the college experience quite stressful for students. Many reported having professors who weren't available for instruction, or simply didn't show up for work.
"Problems ranged from teachers simply disappearing for more than a week, not answering direct posts or emails, instructors not following their own written class policies, to a policy of allowing teachers to fail my courses due to a persistent bug in their system as a result of an UoP software upgrade," said one consumer who posted to ConsumerAffairs.
In a 2007 government audit, it was revealed that UoP uses more part-time professors than most universities, and at 16 percent, its graduation rate is among the lowest in the industry. This is according to results provided by the Department of Education.
The news isn't all bad, though. As this chart shows, many students are happy, even enthusiastic, about their experience with UoP.
History of complaints
While many students have graduated successfully from the school with no issue, UoP does have a lengthy list of complaints from consumers.
In a past response to ConsumerAffairs, UoP said: "The University strives to provide excellent customer service, and our goal is to demonstrate this commitment in all of our actions. We are always eager to review any comments or concerns from students and will work diligently to review any opportunities for improvement." The full response from the school can be seen here.
But has the school improved since it offered that response a few years ago?
As recently as June 5, of this year, Ryan of Highland Lakes, N.J. said both he and his wife received poor services from the online university.
After not being able to attend some classes due to a serious family matter, Ryan was sent to collections for not paying tuition, while his wife was returned her money with no grade, explanation, or offer of re-enrollment.
"Do not attend," Ryan summarized.
And UoP's troubles don't stop at the U.S. border. In 2011, the school quit providing classes to its Canadian students, for reasons that aren't exactly clear.
Pressure from investors
Experts say the school is under a large amount of pressure from Wall Street to keep its earnings consistently high, even at the expense of not providing a full and carefully designed online educational experience.
"Wall Street has put them under inordinate pressure to keep up the profits, and my take on it is that they succumbed to that," said David W. Breneman, the University of Virginia's dean at the campus's Curry School of Education. "They have really stumbled," he said.
The University of Phoenix did not respond to requests for comment.