College of Arizona eyes consolidation with UAGC

The College of Arizona is trying to fully soak up its acquired on-line campus, creating one other twist in a saga tinged with funds woes and state authorities issues.

The College of Arizona World Campus, previously referred to as Ashford College, grew to become a completely working unit of the College of Arizona in July 2023 after the acquisition about three years earlier than. On-line-only UAGC remained a separate entity with its personal accreditation and management crew.

Consolidating UAGC fully into UA would change that, ought to the deal undergo, however what that will seem like—past additional integrating the UAGC model and its experience into UA’s fold—stays to be seen.

Extra Questions Than Solutions

The College of Arizona declined repeated requests for remark, as a substitute pointing Inside Larger Ed to a 13-page letter the college despatched Governor Katie Hobbs on Feb. 20.

Hobbs had expressed issues concerning the acquisition of Ashford, which she seen as a failing entity with a bankrupt mum or dad firm, Zovio. After the deal, Zovio initially stayed on as a web based program supervisor for the College of Arizona. When the contract between Zovio and UA ended, 791 of the 909 Zovio staff have been rehired at UAGC.

“Along with the monetary issues raised throughout the course of, vital moral issues with Ashford College’s enterprise mannequin seem to have been brushed apart by college management throughout the acquisition,” Hobbs mentioned in a separate letter despatched to UA on Jan. 25.

Precisely when UA started discussing integrating UAGC is unclear and couldn’t be confirmed by the college. In accordance with UA’s letter despatched to the governor, the college employed consulting agency Ernst and Younger to conduct a 12-week evaluation of the potential for a consolidation and count on to overview the outcomes by June 30, 2024.

Whereas college officers additionally declined to offer reasoning behind a push for integration, there’s different hypothesis. Some specialists mentioned the motivation is having access to UAGC’s almost 24,000 college students, whereas others guessed the objective is having access to a big know-how platform.

Aaron Lacey, chair of the upper training observe on the legislation agency Thompson Coburn, identified it might ease governance practices, in addition to regulatory and operational efficiencies basically.

“It’s simply inefficient to have two completely separate establishments,” he mentioned. “Additionally, there’s simply the status. UA is a giant, well-respected, college flagship state entity, and for now of us graduating from UAGC, that’s not who’s granting their diploma.”

The Different On-line Program

After UAGC’s acquisition, its former president, Paul Pastorek, in July stepped right into a senior vice chairman position at College of Arizona. He resigned 4 months later. Gary Packard has been filling the position on an interim foundation.

Packard additionally oversees UA’s lesser-known Arizona On-line, which launched in 2015 and has grown to enroll roughly 9,400 college students. It has a extra conventional method for on-line lessons, that are taught by College of Arizona professors in semester codecs.

Compared, UAGC serves about 24,000 college students, gives programs on a five-week rolling time period and has open enrollment.

“We’re constructed to increase the college’s operations, whereas UAGC is constructed to be a web based operation,” mentioned Caleb Simmons, government director of on-line training.

Simmons, who oversees Arizona On-line, mentioned if the mixing have been to maneuver ahead, he would welcome UAGC’s experience within the on-line sector.

“I do consider within the prospects for UAGC; I’m a convert,” he mentioned. “We’ve a duty as a state college, as a land-grant college, to offer training to individuals who aren’t usually served. I consider UAGC permits us to try this in a manner that we can’t with out them.”

Nonetheless, it’s unknown what is going to occur to Arizona On-line if UAGC is folded into the combination. Ernst and Younger started wanting right into a “strategic alignment” on Feb. 14, based on UA’s letter to Hobbs. The consulting agency has been reviewing financials, organizational alignment and “potential dangers” concerned in combining the 2.

“From the floor I perceive the rationale, which is that Arizona On-line is nice, it simply gained’t transfer the needle quick sufficient,” mentioned Phil Hill, a market analyst and ed-tech marketing consultant with Phil Hill and Associates. “However quietly, Arizona On-line appears to be rising. It’s ironic—it’s not simply that they’ve a web based program, however it appears to be doing fairly effectively.”

Future Issues

That call, together with the mixing as an entire, will take a number of weeks to come back to mild, based on the UA letter.

Within the interim, the college is dealing with a $177 million funds shortfall, which precipitated Fred DuVal, the chair of the state’s Board of Regents, to step down on March 1 after Hobbs blasted the board for having “no coherent imaginative and prescient.” The board’s government director, John Arnold, additionally stepped right down to concentrate on his position as interim chief monetary officer at UA.

On March 4, the Division of Schooling additionally warned the college it will be on the hook for the debt incurred by Ashford College college students by means of discharged pupil loans, from earlier than it was acquired and have become UAGC. It’s not recognized how a lot UA must repay, however UA officers have repeatedly said they aren’t answerable for the actions of UAGC—then Ashford—earlier than its acquisition.

Some specialists say the transfer is meant to make an instance out of the College of Arizona and scare off different establishments from buying on-line giants. The College of Idaho was within the course of of buying the College of Phoenix in November 2023. Nonetheless, that deal has been contested to the purpose that the Idaho Supreme Courtroom has gotten concerned, coping with claims the college violated the state’s open assembly legal guidelines by allegedly discussing the Phoenix deal behind closed doorways.

“I’ve little doubt that it’s a large motivation with how onerous they’re going after [the University of] Arizona,” Hill mentioned. “That is how the [Education Department] works proper now; it’s a coordinated regulatory marketing campaign. I could be shocked if I ever came upon there was no relationship to what was taking place in Idaho.”

The College of Arizona additionally wants to think about the affect of taking up UAGC’s hundreds of scholars—together with their less-than-stellar six-year commencement charges, which sit at 18 p.c for college kids who started throughout the 2015–16 college yr. In 2020—probably the most up to date numbers provided from UAGC—the retention fee was 31 p.c.

“For this reason states have separate flagships and group schools,” mentioned Lacey, of Thompson Coburn’s greater training observe. “They’ve a unique mission and are often succeeding at a unique degree academically, so it is smart to maintain it separate. This might be the identical factor with UAGC—which doesn’t make it unhealthy, however it could have totally different challenges.”

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