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December 11, 2012 10:00 AM University of Phoenix Lobbies to Prevent Community College Bachelor’s Degrees

By Daniel Luzer

The state of Arizona, as part of an effort to save money and get more Arizonians though college, was considering a plan to allow the state’s community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees.

And then it decided not to. Why? It appears lobbying had a lot to do with it. And what sort of institution wants to ensure that community colleges can’t offer low priced bachelor’s degrees to the state’s poor and working class students?

That’s right: for-profit colleges. According to a piece by Sarah Pavlus at the American Independent:

The University of Phoenix played a key role in defeating legislation that would have allowed community colleges in Arizona to offer low-priced bachelor’s degree programs, interviews and state records show.
Beginning in 2005, the University of Phoenix lobbied Arizona state lawmakers against the degree programs, arguing that they would cost taxpayers too much money, duplicate existing programs, and “harm” the private college sector. The company also sponsored research, circulated a letter, and published an op-ed opposing the programs.

It’s possible that community college bachelor’s degrees would cost Arizona taxpayers more money and duplicate existing programs, of course, but more crucially from Phoenix’s perspective, the program would have eaten into its lucrative business model.

Because both community colleges and for-profit schools serve working class adults looking to get degrees in order to make more money to obtain better jobs, any increase in community college offerings would likely draw people away from (more expensive) bachelor’s degrees offered by for-profit schools Arizona students look to once they’ve finished their community college programs.

Apparently in a 2006 meeting with business analysts Phoenix founder John Sperling praised one of his executives as the woman who was responsible for “killing the community colleges’ four-year degree program in Arizona.”

A Phoenix spokesman explained to Pavlus that it’s not like the for-profit college has an antagonist relationship with community colleges: “We look at community colleges as partners, and we understand that they play a critical role in higher education,” University of Phoenix spokesman Ryan Rauzon said.

Well yes, but they’re much more useful as partners if they form a direct pipeline into your product, aren’t they? By eliminating the community college bachelor’s degree, that greatly reduces the education options community college students have available.

An advertisement for the for-profit school explained that, “we offer more degree levels than community college. From associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees to certificates and single courses, we offer the programs that fit your lifestyle and career interests.”

And, thanks to lobbying efforts, it appears to have eliminated other programs that might “fit your lifestyle and career interests.”

A community college education in Arizona will cost a student about $76 per credit hour. A course at Phoenix, in contrast, can set a student back as much as $570 per credit hour.

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