College Guide

Blog

July 11, 2012 7:16 PM Ashford’s Accreditation Problem

By Daniel Luzer

Ashford University, the for-profit college owned by Bridgepoint Education Inc., will not receive accreditation has had its accreditation application denied. That’s according to the Monday decision of Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the regional accreditor. The company apparently hoped to earn regional accreditation through WASC its 2005 purchase of the Franciscan University of the Prairies, a financially struggling Catholic college in Clinton Iowa.

For the last decade this has been a common tactic of companies operating for-profit colleges: buy up a struggling regular college, and then use its accreditation to expand online programs.

This isn’t going to work for Bridgeport. According to an article by Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed:

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges dealt a stinging blow to Bridgepoint Education Inc. on Monday by rejecting the for-profit’s accreditation bid for its Ashford University. The decision could mean regional accreditors will take a more assertive role in the debate over for-profit higher education.
Ashford fell short in several broad areas, according to the association, including its lack of a “sufficient core” of full-time faculty members, large numbers of students who drop out and questionable academic rigor in some areas.

Perhaps the biggest problem was the company was just growing really, really fast. Ashford now has 90,000 students. It had about 10,000 in 2007. How was it doing that?

Part of the way it did this, and part of the reason Western Association of Schools and Colleges seems to have denied the institution its seal of approval, had to do with its staffing.

According to the article, Ashford employed only 56 full-time faculty members in 2011. The institution had only 14 writing specialists and 38 instructional specialists for those tens of thousands of students. Oddly, however, the institution had 2,305 staff members in “enrollment services.” That means the people in charge of finding and recruiting people to attend this open-enrollment school.

Regionally accredited colleges are academically oriented. Nationally accredited schools are vocational or career colleges. For-profit colleges are virtually always the latter but by purchasing traditional institutions with regional accreditation they could immediately qualify for more federal financial aid and, thus, vastly expand online programs.

New colleges can’t generally receive financial aid for two years, but by purchasing existing colleges, for-profit companies can immediately take advantage of the aid. Normally accreditation takes about five years and accreditors look seriously at academic rigor and “teaching, learning, service and scholarship,” but by purchasing a regular college vocational schools could avoid all of that and simply rake in the cash.

Regional accreditation is generally more attractive because, while both types of accreditation confer eligibility for federal financial aid, regional accreditation means students can earn bachelor’s degrees, transfer academic credits across colleges, and have their diplomas accepted by employers and graduate schools.

This decision indicates that perhaps accreditors are in the future going to be more critical of for-profit schools and their attempts to exploit accreditation.

For some struggling schools, of course, the promise of additional funds may continue to be very tempting. If the company buying isn’t assured that it will be able to take advantage of the federal student aid bonanza, however, the process won’t work without some scrutiny. That’s probably just as well. For-profit colleges, whether regionally accredited or not, enroll about 10 percent of American college students. Such schools account for almost half of the country’s student loan defaults, however.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Melissa on July 11, 2012 8:39 PM:

    Daniel, you are an idiot for discrediting your story by having the first words out of your mouth be something negative AND Incorrect!

    Ashford IS accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and will be until the 2014/2015 school year, when they are up for renewal.
    Ashford was denied their initial request for WASC accreditation only. The reason they wanted to try to seek out WASC is because most of the student-facing employees and administrative offices, including the Registrar are in San Diego.
    Its not the end of the world, they still maintain good standing with the HLC.
    Get your facts straight before irresponsibly misinforming people.

  • Washington Monthly on July 11, 2012 9:26 PM:

    Apologies. Melissa is correct that the institution remains accredited for now. It was the approval to be accredited by a new entity that was denied.

  • Anonymous on July 11, 2012 11:01 PM:

    I am a student at Ashford in Clinton, Iowa. As long as Ashford is accredited by the HLC is there anything my fellow students and I in Clinton need to be worried about?

  • Anonymous on July 11, 2012 11:09 PM:

    I apologize that wasn't very specific. What I am worried about is future education and employment. I have a few years left before graduation but I plan on continuing my studies and earning a masters degree. Will this mishap harm any chances of that happening or finding a good job?

  • Decker on July 12, 2012 4:45 AM:

    Read the articles from the Chronicle and the San Diego Union Tribune. The HLC accreditation is also at risk because of the "substantial presence" policy of the HLC, which would imply that Ashford would have to relocate a substantial amount of operations to (one or more) the 19 other states for which it is accredited by December.

    If you're a student at Ashford, you may want try to find another university program to accept your credits while you still can. It's deplorable how this company operates.

  • Melissa on July 12, 2012 10:38 AM:

    There has been much planning in the event WASC denied accreditation. Again, it is not the end of the world because the school continues to be in good standing with its current accrediting body. Bridgepoint is a very smart company and is not destined to fail. Bridgepoint started in San Diego and has about 60% of its administration and upper management, plus registrar there. There is also the campus in IA and administration in Denver. The school will be continuing to grow in Denver as planned for the past year (prior to WASC denial). They may even take volunteers from the employee population in San Diego and will continue to hire to meet the substantial presence requirement for HLC. In the meantime, they are appealing and reapplying for WASC.
    Your education is safe as long as ANY school you are attending is accredited. Any school would be capable of losing their accreditation, but since the focus is more on the growth of for-profit universities and their abilities to meet that growth with the proper infrastructure, they are more vulnerable to bias.
    It most likely will not happen that Ashford even risks losing accreditation with HLC (they have had it since 1951), but if such an event were to ever occur with any school, your credits are protected from the time that it was accredited, but not after. Hope that helps.

    And thank you Daniel, for clarifying your article.

  • Some dude in Denver on July 12, 2012 1:19 PM:

    If Bridgepoint plans on continuing their growth in Denver, then why was about 40% of their workforce laid off on Monday and Tuesday of this week? I used to work for the Denver office and was fortunate enough to be offered a position elesewhere months ago. However, many of my old co-workers are now jobless this week due to the poor mismanagement and ignorance of Bridgepoint and its subsidiaries. Those that are left there are so sickened by the company's practice that moral is now at an all time low.

    All personal thoughs aside, the fact is that Ashford's appeal to WASC is very slim and it has till Dec. 1 of this year to meet the substantial presence requirement in the mid west in order to stay in good standing with the HLC. Yes, if has accreditation till 2014/2015, but it has a TON of work to do to assure accreditation after that time.

  • AUalum on July 13, 2012 4:35 AM:

    My understanding is that Ashford is in jeopardy of losing its HLC accreditation as early as December 1 due to a lack of prominent presence in the areas covered by that accrediting board.

    I am an Ashford alum on two fronts -- I obtained a graduate degree from there while I worked there. I know firsthand the pressure to make quotas and meet "numbers", and that always did take precedence over what was best for the students. Everything that has been written about the pressure to enroll students whether online education was right for them or not, and holding their hand until the financial aid disbursed, is all 100% correct!

    Not only does Ashford have a high dropout rate, but you should investigate the high employee turnover rate. If an employee stays in any of the admissions departments for a year, they are considered veterans. More than likely, employees leave within three months and are typically harassed to meet �numbers� and �quotas� the entire time. The school grew too fast, and so did its leadership - managers, department heads, and so forth. They have no people skills where employees or student welfare is concerned.

    Based on what I know about the online branch of Ashford University, I am not surprised by any of this, and to pretend this accreditation mess is anything less than a mess is misplaced optimism.

    You should write a follow up to this story because I'm sure what we have seen now is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come.

  • Former Wis on July 13, 2012 9:30 PM:

    As a recently fired employee, I am confident that the management team at ashford (and bridgepoint) does not have the capability of restructuring this disaster. I had complained for months leading up to my termination that the business practices by the company were not in alignment with higher education and the facilitation of long-term knowledge retention. I have to admit that I am not surprised by these events. I do not have any shares in any company, but I would personally caution against this one in particular.

    Melissa, I wonder why you would stand behind the same people who have jeopardized so many lives? It appears that you are attempting to defend irrationality, and so many of your posts are far from the truth. Ashford is in serious danger of losing acceditation, and when that happens, the shareholders will liquidate all of ashford's free cash flow, this making it a shell of a former company. Taking into account all of the lawsuits that have been filed against bridgepoint this week, the necessity for ashford to completely revamp its business model, and the gargantuan logistics of appeasing the HLC, ashford is in serious trouble.

    Personally, I would get as far away from ashford as I could; transfer credits to another institution or otherwise, but after the smoke clears, the ashford degree will be worthless. Sorry to be so upfront, but I have watched this company do what they do for years with impunity.

    Best of luck to you all, and I hope you see the truth soon.

  • Former Employee Of Ashford on July 21, 2012 1:33 AM:

    I was always employed there when the online program first started and worked my way up very fast because I got in good with management. That place is a joke and out for one thing....MONEY.

  • Fassell on July 22, 2012 10:13 AM:

    My wife and I are due to graduate from Ashford in March 2013. If Ashford loses their accreditation after we receive our degrees, will those degrees hold any value?

  • Michelle on August 01, 2012 11:30 AM:

    You should be very worried! If your degree is not accredited you will almost certainly not be able to transfer that degree to another school. I highly recommend an online school that has been around for a long time, e.g. Kaplan or UoP. Don't wait until it's too late - switch now!! I just graduated from Kaplan and it was an awesome experience and I've already gotten a raise!

  • Beth on August 13, 2012 8:24 AM:

    This article is not surprising to me at all. I am currently enrolled at Ashford, ironically enough, have been debating transferring out of this school. The controversy surrounding this institution has strengthened my decision.
    When a one makes the decision to enroll in college, you should have the expectation of challenge, critical thinking, and be expected to put forth effort. Ashford offers, nor expects, any of these standards from there students; even though they postulate these as there code of ethics. One should also expect some stress to be associated with college; if it is too easy, there is something wrong. I often see on their Facebook page, students making statements about how easy a class is. Making a class ignorantly easy is handing someone a diploma they do not deserve. It is also very easy for many to pass these classes when many are buying their answers on line. This student (whom I might add is claiming to tutor cannot even spell tutorial accurately) even posts her name in the blog, does not provide �tutoring� but specifically states she �has the answers for the quizzes.� These are issues I have had concerning Ashford, voiced these concerns with them, which have been either ignored or responded with, �we will send to the department that handles this.�
    I have stress on a different level with Ashford that has nothing to do with hard subject matter. My stress has to do with other students, Instructors, Student Advisors, Assistance and �so-called� educational texts. I see other students with grammar, etiquette, and vocabulary skills on a 5th grade level; yet they are still being advanced into their next classes. Grammar, syntax, and other pertinent English skills are to be graded in discussions and responses, as well as research papers. When surrounded by individuals posting comments such as, �due to my strick backing in belive sytem �� or �congradulashun on good postin� (not exaggeration, these are actual posts), it makes for a very frustrating learning environment. Another example would be the research paper due in Anthropology 101, grammar was only assessed a .5 ratio towards your final grade. Shame on them. As I do fully understand proper English is not the sole basis of education, having a good comprehension in your subject matter is equally important, how is one to comprehend their subject if they have no comprehension in English. This also makes discussions difficult, constantly having to explain everything in �crayola style� so many can understand meaning. It also causes misunderstanding and bantering that could be avoided if remedial English courses were provided. With this school, remedial English courses are definitely necessary!
    As stated in an article from Forbes,
    �HLC has asked Ashford to elaborate on student monitoring and education goals, as well as its spending habits.�
    This is an absolute must by the HLC. Ashford is not worried about what happens to the student when they enter the classroom. Once the �papers are signed�, their pockets are padded and you are now just a dollar sign. The only time communication has been received is if something has been missing from my FAFSA paperwork. A telling sign in my eyes. I have sent several communications to them since enrollment in October about Instructor issues, student issues, and questions; I received emailed generic messages with the response that nothing could be done and I had to take it up with the Instructor. If the issue is with the Instructor and unfair grading (points taken off for requirements that were not in the directions), nothing is ever resolved. I never have a problem with grades, as grades are there to provide guidance and feedback to show you where you went wrong and how to improve, but when you are graded wrong, who is helping us; no one at Ashford. It does not fit their profit pocket handbook. To have some one to help us means they have to employee people, a chunk out of the profits!

  • alita on August 29, 2012 9:51 PM:

    I have held a ba in business from the university since 2009. I have been told by many places of possible employement that they know I do not have the skills from this college to be hired. With 50,000 in student loan debt and a fake degree, what am I supposed to do about paying that back ? Are they going to do anything about the ones of us that already got suckered?

  • Melisa on September 16, 2012 7:24 PM:

    Wow- so I'm concerned. I just enrolled, fast and furious. FAFSA hasn't even come through yet and according to my records, I owe money to to the school. I cannot be punished because of "oversights" and information that has been omiited. Well, I guess I can, but really. I have a child, am trying to re-enter school, and at this point life is....difficult, to say the least. Will I be penalized if I switch out? I am afraid! I can do the same type of program locally, on-line, etc. Where can I find the inforamation I need to understand any options (I hope) tyhat I have?
    Goodness, life does whack you one at times!

  • DAVID THOMAS on September 23, 2012 7:35 PM:

    sHAME! sHAME! sHAME!

    I can't believe you people??!! ANY Online program is going to have its differences amongst traditional schools. I'm retired ARMY, and I got a BA in Organizational Management w/Foreign Language concentration from AU and have attended both 1)traditional University 2)Community College and I will tell you and YES with capital letters........ ALL THE READING AND WRITING ALONG WITH A FAST PACED AND CHALLENGING CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT's(5 weeks)HAVE MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN MY LIfe!!

    YOU GET WHAT YOU PUT INTO!!! No, the teacher will not hold your hand while you write that 10 page paper or 8 or 5 depending on the week, not to mention responding to a few of your class mates, a midterm exam, weekly quizes. No, the teacher is not going to bring a textbook and read it to you so you can go night night......... Ridicoulous.... In addition,!Never! never! did I have any issues whatsoever while attending AU. It is sad to see a bunch of traditional collegiates knock down "THE ONLINE SCHOOL" but I THINK I MAY KNOW WHY--- the answer is because YOU CANNOT DO IT (online is not for everybody)-YOU CANNOT COME HOME, BEAT UP AFTER YOUR 10 HR SHIFT, SIT INFRONT OF YOUR COMPUTER AND LITERALLY PUT IN 3 TO 4 HOURS A NIGHT IF YOU WANT TO MAKE AN A IN THE CLASS. Well, I did just that!and it has been one of hardest things I've had to do and for you to come and try to destroy this dream- Shame on you!LET THE EMPLOYERS DECIDE WETHER WE ARE QUALIFIED OR NOT
    -FAMILY-ARMY-SCHOOL is all intertwined with one another so I have to balance it out. Not easy; AND YOUR LIES AND UNTRUE COMMENTS MAKES IT EVEN WORSE- Like i said "Internet School is not for everybody"

    I wonder if these Id..ts realize that people can get and have letigimate degrees? a degree through correspondance.ex..Mail Its been going on for decades.

    We are not going to sit here and allow this outrage. This is war now. You people are destroying a lot of people's dreams just because of the power of the internet- ANYBODY CAN POST WHATEVER THEY WANT ON THE INTERNET- Its the consequences that you will have to answer too; So go ahead keep writing away. The USA would never allow a school scam like that and do all the crap we are being accused of.I think that comes from a bunch of disgruntle students/employees and/or whom where unable to transition from a regular university type setting and/or whorse high school to an online setting.

    Well guys-adjust your buckles. I will personally go and read every negative thing I can find, get their IP address', subpena you and take you to court for defamation of character. All you negatives (thats ur new knick name)I suggest you remove your bullshit from the internet before we can get it all AND WE WILL as well as your IP's. This is not a joke! We have potential employers laughing at our degree like is nothing. Because of you!!!! I busted my ass for 5 yrs in school while serving in the ARMY (Sgt. Ret.)and juggle finances for our family.

    please email me and let me know what you think..

    WELL GUESS WHAT??!!

    Ive READ EVERY SINGLE TEXT-BOOK AND DID EVERYTHING ELSE AS CLOSE TO PERFECT AS I COULD.
    WE ARE LEARNING IN A DIFFERENT WAY THAN YOU THAT'S ALL. aS A MATTER OF FACT i GURANTEE YOU WE DO MORE READING AND WRITING THAN MOST SCHOOLS. I have the caps on because Im ver upset with this people that keep putting my degree down. First of all- Who are these people that are so qualified to make such statements/judgemets against a good school, and may I add friboulous comments?. Because that is exactly what all of this anti-Ashford people are doing.
    In 2010 they did surgery on both of my elbows as the nerves that lay flat (elbows) on the desk got dammage due to so much typing.

    Its like me saying that all traditional universities are good for nothing! and that this! and that! I can spend all day talking about the fact that ALL of them are for profit. THEY HAVE

  • Vance on November 09, 2012 12:13 AM:

    IM REALLY SHOCKED I JUST APPLIED FOR THIS SCHOOL IM VERY WORRIED NOW.

  • Michael on December 15, 2012 9:55 PM:

    So did they meet "substantial presence" in HLC by 1 Dec?

  • T on January 31, 2013 6:20 PM:

    This is absolutely the most biased and close minded article I've read, and can't believe it's being published by a professional and in a reputable journal.

    What is the horrible thing that these "For-Profit" schools are doing really? Challenging tradition? Is that not what our nation is founded on? Innovation, and change?

    Online Education is the best tool we have moving forward, and eventually it will be up to our executives, and staffing individuals to decide if this curriculum is appropriate, and sufficient for the positions which need to be filled. Thinking as an employer, would you rather hire an individual who has 15 years of work experience, and a degree in Business from an online program, or a 22 year old graduate who's spent the last 4 years sleeping through class, and following a "C's to Degrees" mentality? Should individuals be punished for finding a career they love, starting a family, then deciding they'd like to pursue their education while not neglecting the career they love, or their family? What about individuals who live in a city without a coveted and prestigious 4 year university? If they are willing to put in the work, should they have to move? Sell their house? Leave everyone they know?

    Furthermore, what can you learn in a classroom that you cannot learn online? Are these college founders greedy, or are they brilliant? Are they making money, of course, but is it un-deserved? When you look at a traditional campus, they are making money, they also have more expenses. There is building up-keep, and admission limitations due to space, online programs do not have these limitations. They are innovative, and accessible. These founders have found a way to cut the costs on education, make an education more accessible to more people, and create a learning environment that is more conducive to individual growth. At Ashford the average instructor to student ratio is 30:1. As a student who has transferred multiple times, I can say this is something I really appreciate. At larger universities, which I have attended two very well known state schools, I felt lost in my introductory classes. If you have to schedule an appointment just to ask your professor a question, and that question must first be screened by a graduate student teaching assistant, are you really getting the education you're paying for? Additionally, if you are in these lecture halls with 100+ students sleeping in the back row hung over, are you earning your degree? Online environments require active participation from every student, and their development as a scholar is monitored and graded directly by their instructor. I would like to challenge traditional colleges! Who is the real "diploma mill?" A university taught primarily by instructors incapable of individualized attention for their students because they simply have too many to manage, or an online program where individualized attention is not only available but required for a degree? Do these universities make a lot of money? Absolutely, but why is that a bad thing? Isnt the sole purpose of these accrediting bodies to ensure academic quality? Is it their responsibility to monitor the income revenue of these schools? Is their purpose to protect traditional colleges, or is it their purpose to encourage innovation? Where would we be as a society if we expanded this temperament across all aspects of growth and development? Riding in horse drawn carriages? Conducting math classes using an abacus? Sending letters by pony express? Technology is embraced in every aspect of our society! It saves money, increases revenue, and gives hard working citizens the option to catch up to the privileged individuals who can afford to take 7-8 hours a day off their life, spend tens of thousands of dollars on an education, and fumble together a piece of paper that entitles them to careers with better pay and hours simply because they can afford it. For-Profit schools make a lot of money, b

  • cbs on March 27, 2013 7:37 AM:

    I just got denied a job because of my ashford degree!!!HR looked at it like a joke!

  • CG on July 26, 2013 8:24 AM:

    cbs: I'm sorry you were denied a job because of your degree but not all employers will feel that way. I am working for an aerospace company that is very excited about my degree progress and has already told me that once I finish with Ashford, I can expect a substantial pay increase. Maybe the company you applied for has had issues with other graduates of Ashford which is not really a reflection on the school, but on the individuals themselves. Don't get discouraged. You know how hard you worked for your degree so hold your head up and feel pride for your accomplishment. Hopefully other employers will feel differently.