- The accreditor that allows the University of Arizona Global Campus to participate in federal financial aid programs has potentially violated U.S. Department of Education regulations over concerns about monitoring the online college’s recruiting and admissions practices. recent employment reference from a 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 was misleading prospective students.
- These allegations culminated in a 2017 lawsuit against Ashford and his former owner, which he ultimately lost. Although the college’s accreditor, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, has policies that require it to investigate potential problems with recruitment and admissions, education department staff wrote that they have not provided evidence that it would increase scrutiny in those areas.
WSCUC has historically accredited four-year institutions in California, Hawaii, and the US territories of Guam and American Samoa. Among those colleges is UAGC, which was acquired by the University of Arizona to build its online footprint and attract more adult students.
Although the online college changed hands, it initially maintained close ties with its former owner, Zovio, through a contract for educational services such as marketing and recruiting. But online college ended her 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 comes about six months after a California judge found the company misled students about the costs and career outcomes of Ashford’s programs. One analysis estimates that Zovio made 1.2 million misleading phone calls to prospective students between March 2009 and April 2020.
“The department is concerned that UAGC continues to have serious problems with its recruitment and admissions practices at least during the agency’s current inspection period, but the agency has not identified these problems at the school,” Department of Education 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 about low student persistence and completion rates at the institution.
The accreditor cited several university policies as evidence that UAGC improved its recruiting and admissions practices after the lawsuit, according to the latest Department of Education report. These include new staff to oversee hiring practices and a mystery shopper program to pinpoint problems.
However, the report states that the accreditor provided this evidence by citing practices that the accreditation itself stated.
“It is unclear from the documentation provided how the agency verified the school’s statements about its current recruitment and admissions practices,” staff wrote.
Education Department staff recommended in the report that recognition of the accreditation continue if the agency can demonstrate that it has met several criteria within a year. The report also proposes that the WSCUC be required to provide additional documentation of its review of admissions and recruitment practices to the UAGC.
Accreditors serve as gatekeepers to billions of dollars in federal financial aid, including student loans and Pell grants. These agencies should oversee colleges and ensure that they do not engage in deceptive practices or that students are no worse off than before they enrolled.
But they have drawn criticism that they are not doing enough to prevent some colleges from abusing or failing students. In response, he has several advocacy and higher education organizations urged the Ministry of Education strengthen own supervision of accreditors.
WSCUC is among several accreditors that have recently applied to renew their federal recognition. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity—a group that makes recommendations regarding accrediting agencies—will review WSCUC’s application at three day meeting from February 28 and will then make its own recommendations.
“The WSCUC will talk about our successes, the thorough and rigorous oversight of our institutions, the evidence of results, and the areas for the agency to focus on and improve when we go before NACIQI,” WSCUC President Jamienne Studley said in a statement Monday.
The Department of Education’s top official will consider recommendations from the agency’s own staff and NACIQI before making a decision on whether to continue recognizing WSCUC.