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Ashford University

Ashford University

Ashford University (AU) is an online non-profit university headquartered in San Diego, California.[4] It is a holding of Zovio, an education technology services company. [5] The university offers associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in more than 50 degree programs online. The university consists of five colleges: the Division of General Education, the Forbes School of Business & Technology (FSBT), the College of Education, the College of Health, Human Services, and Science, and the College of Liberal Arts.[6]

Ashford is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).[7]

**Ashford University**
Technology Changes Everything™
Parent institution
PresidentCraig D. Swenson[1]
Academic staff
2,665 (191 full time) [2]
Administrative staff
San Diego[4]
ColorsPurple and Gold
NicknameThe Saints
Websitewww.ashford.edu [83]


TeleUniversity 1999-2005

Ashford University claims a history dating back to 1918.[8] [9] The school, however, has stronger roots with TeleUniversity, an online school created by entrepreneur Michael K. Clifford in 1999. [10] In 2005, TeleUniversity's parent company, for-profit Bridgepoint Education, purchased the small Franciscan University of the Prairies campus in Clinton, Iowa, retained the school's valuable accreditation, and renamed it Ashford University. Most of Ashford University's students, however, were enrolled to learn exclusively online[11] and the campus closed in May 2016.

Catholic colleges: 1918-2005

Seeing a need for higher education in Clinton County and the surrounding area, the Sisters of Saint Francis founded Mount St. Clare College in 1918.[12] This liberal arts institution was also an approved teacher education college from 1932 to 1954. In 1942, 60% of the rural teachers in Clinton County and 62% of the teachers in the city of Clinton school system had received all their training from Mount St. Clare College. In 1950, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools first accredited Mount St. Clare College. The college then began to expand quickly, and acquired a convent building, new library, new gymnasium, the Science Building, and Durham Residence Hall. The college eventually became coeducational in 1967.

The 24-acre (9.7 ha) campus was about a half mile (800 m) from the Mississippi River and about a mile (1,600 m) north of Highway 30. The most notable building on campus was St. Clare Hall, which served as the Mount St. Clare Convent, Novitiate, Academy, and College. Durham and Regis Halls provided residence to on campus students.

For the 1979–1980 school year, the college received approval for its first four-year degree, a bachelor's program in business administration. During the same year, Mount St. Clare Academy merged with St. Mary's High School in Clinton, forming Mater Dei High School (now known as Prince of Peace Preparatory). With the space freed by the academy's merger, the school began to offer additional four-year programs. In 1997, the sisters moved off campus into their new mother house, The Canticle. In 1998, the Durgin Educational Center was opened, which included new athletic facilities, including Kehl arena.

In 2003, Mount St. Clare College changed its name to The Franciscan University.[13] At the same time, the university received approval to offer its first master's degree online. In September 2004, the school modified its name to The Franciscan University of the Prairies in order to avoid confusion with similarly named schools.[14]

Ashford University: 2005–present

After a period of financial difficulty, the university was purchased by Bridgepoint Education in March 2005.[15] After the sale, the institution's name was changed to Ashford University.[15]In 2010, Ashford University was highlighted in College, Inc. a PBS Frontline exposé about for-profit colleges.[16] In June 2012, WASC denied initial accreditation to Ashford University.[17] Following WASC's denial of accreditation for being "lacking in several areas, including low numbers of full-time faculty, high student dropout rates and questions about academic rigor," WASC demanded additional information from Ashford prior to an October site visit. Its second application was accepted in 2013.[18] In approving accreditation, the WASC Commission Action Letter stated "The Commission found that the University has responded to Commission concerns and judges that it is now in substantial compliance with Commission standards." The WASC visiting team noted in its final report that "the team found an institution that has been fundamentally transformed and whose culture has been changed in significant ways, including a shift from a market driven approach to an institution committed to student retention and success".[19]

In 2013, Ashford University announced an alliance with Forbes Media, and Ashford's College of Business and Professional Studies was renamed the Forbes School of Business. It was later renamed Forbes School of Business & Technology at Ashford University.[20]

On July 9, 2015, the university announced that the Iowa campus would close in May 2016. [21] The inability to meet campus enrollment requirements was a key factor in the Ashford University Board of Trustees' decision to call for the campus closure. For about a decade, Ashford University teams were known as the Saints and competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) as an Independent member; the Saints formerly competed in the Midwest Collegiate Conference (MCC). Men's sports included baseball, basketball, golf, bowling, tennis, soccer, cross country, and track and field; women's sports include basketball, soccer, softball, golf, bowling, tennis, cross country, track and field and volleyball. Academic organizations included the Ashford Junior-Senior Honor Society, the Ashford Student Iowa State Education Association, the Golden Key International Honour Society,[22] the Mu Sigma Eta math and science honor society, the Phi Beta Lambda business organization, the Psychology Club, the Scholars Institute honors program, and the Sigma Tau Delta literature and education honor society.

In 2017, Ashford University school faced the potential loss of GI Bill funding [23][24] as enrollment decreased more than 50 percent from its peak in 2011. [25][26] Bridgepoint Education merged Ashford with the University of the Rockies and planned to convert Ashford to a non-profit university.[27] In 2018, the University took steps to become a nonprofit institution.[28] According to Nolan Sundrud, a Bridgepoint spokesman, the nonprofit status would allow the University to be "...judged and measured as colleges and universities should be - on their ability to support student success."[28] The switch required approval from both the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education. In November 2018, Ashford's accreditor, WASC, delayed allowing the school to become a non-profit. [29]

In 2019, Bridgepoint bought Fullstack Academy, [30] and moved its personnel to Chandler, Arizona, boasting that its facility would feature an open working environment, with a café, gym, and on-site health clinic. [31] Bridgepoint then rebranded and changed its name to Zovio. [32]On April 14, 2019, Ashford University was featured in an NBC News investigation of for-profit colleges that were targeting military veterans. [33]In June 2019, Zovio announced a mass layoff at its headquarters in San Diego. [34] A month later, WASC approved Ashford to become a non-profit entity. [35] Zovio faces shareholder lawsuits related to factual misstatements and an informal inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission. [36]

Enrollment (2010-present)

  • (2010) 63,096

  • (2011) 74,596

  • (2012) 77,734

  • (2013) 58,104

  • (2014) 51,237

  • (2015) 42,452

  • (2016) 41,361

  • (2017) 36,453


Leaders of Ashford and its predecessor institutions have included:

  • Mother Mary Paul Carrico, O.S.F., 1918–1921

  • Mother Kristen Dunno, O.S.F., 1921–1924

  • Mother Mary Paul Carrico, O.S.F., 1924-1936

  • Mother Mary John McKeever, O.S.F., 1936–1948

  • Mother Mary Regis Cleary, O.S.F., 1948–1958

  • Sister Mary Cortona Phelan, O.S.F., 1958–1968

  • Sister Mary Cecile Devereux, O.S.F., 1968–1971

  • Sister Eileen Smith, O.S.F., 1972–1976

  • Dan C. Johnson, 1976–1985

  • The Rev. Charles E. Lang, 1986–1991

  • James J. Ross, 1991–2000

  • Brian McNicholas, 2001–2002

  • Michael E. Kaelke, 2002–2005

  • James Chitwood, 2005–2007

  • Jane McAuliffe, 2007–2011

  • Elizabeth Tice, 2011–2012

  • Richard Pattenaude, 2012–2016

  • Craig D. Swenson, 2016–present[1]

Funding and student aid

Ashford University gets approximately 95% of its money from the US federal government, including $41 million from military tuition assistance and $26 million from GI Bill funds.[38] Ashford University has partnered with more than 100 companies to offer tuition discounts and a limited number of full-tuition grants. Partner companies include T-Mobile, Bridgestone, Hewlett Packard, Zurich Insurance Group, and Comcast. More than 1,000 students have used the full tuition grant to get a degree at Ashford.[39]


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Ashford University employs 191 full-time faculty and 2,466 part-time faculty.[40] The university consists of five colleges:

  • Forbes School of Business and Technology

  • College of Education

  • College of Health, Human Services, and Science

  • College of Liberal Arts[6]

  • Honors College

Student body

Ashford University has a diverse student population. Its undergraduate population is 42 percent white, 36 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic, 4 percent 2 or more races, and 1 percent Asian. [41] According to SEC reports approximately 71 percent of the student body is female, and the average age is 35.[42]

Student outcomes

According to the US Department of Education's College Scorecard, Ashford University has a 16 percent graduation rate and a 23 percent student loan repayment rate. [43]

Student life

Ashford University students who excel academically have the opportunity to join several honor societies.[44] Online students can join the Alpha Sigma Lambda[45] and Phi Theta Kappa[46] honor societies. Campus students are eligible for the Ashford Junior-Senior Honor Society, the Scholars Institute, Mu Sigma Eta math and science honor society,[47] and Sigma Tau Delta[48] literature and education honor society. Both online and campus students are able to join Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society, Golden Key International Honour Society,[22] and SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society.[49]

Ashford University provides benefits to military students, including a Military Tuition Grant, a waiver of technology fees, free books and shipping, and specialized advisors who work exclusively with military students.[50] According to the Department of Defense, 16,636 service members are using their Tuition Assistance (TA) benefits for Ashford. An additional 9,831 use their GI Bill benefits for the school.[51]

The Ashford Sharing Time and Resources (S.T.A.R.) program connects students to volunteering opportunities in communities across the United States.[52] The Ashford Heroes program brings staff and faculty together for large-scale volunteering events.[53] Previous volunteer events have included cleaning parks and public spaces, painting and refurbishing schools in underprivileged areas and building bikes for disadvantaged youth. Ashford S.T.A.R. and Heroes volunteers have also collected food, toys, and monetary donations to support numerous charities, such as the San Diego Food Bank,[54] the Freezin' for Food campaign in Clinton, Iowa,[55] and Toys for Tots.[56]

Notable alumni

Among their graduates are Chuck Aaron, the chief technology officer of Leidos and Gloria Kimbwala, Square's former campus program specialist.

Lawsuits and controversies

Audits, investigations, and lawsuits (2006-2011)

According to U.S. Senate testimony by Arlie Willems, retired reviewer for the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Department of Education denied Ashford University's request in 2006 to offer an online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) on the grounds that the program "was more a collection of discrete courses than a cohesive program, was understaffed for appropriate interaction with students and supervision of both courses and clinical experiences, including student teaching. Many faculty members lacked appropriate academic background and/or experiences for their assigned responsibilities. The most serious concern noted by the team was the lack of responsibility on the part of the program in providing quality clinical experiences, the aspect of teacher preparation considered the most important by preparation programs in Iowa."[57]

Willems also testified that Ashford entered into partnership with Rio Salado Community College whereas education courses from the Ashford BA in Social Science with a Concentration in Education could apply to Rio Salado's post-baccalaureate teacher education program. Once students have completed the online Ashford BA and the online Rio Salado teacher education program, they are eligible for an Arizona teaching license. Willem's noted that this partnership could be seen as a creative way to solve a problem in order to continue drawing students, or it could be seen as a way to circumvent the accountability system for quality in order to continue collecting tuition from students. An individual who has attained an Arizona license in this way does not automatically receive an Iowa license because Iowa and Arizona do not have a reciprocity agreement.

According to Willems, complaints from Ashford students concerning this agreement and licensure include:

  1. Individuals from Iowa and many other states had completed Ashford's online Bachelor of Arts in Social Science with a Concentration in Education. These individuals had been led to believe that, upon completion of this program, they would be eligible for a license in their home state because Ashford has a state-approved teacher education program (the on-ground undergraduate program).
  1. Individuals were students or graduates of the Ashford online baccalaureate program, but were not aware of the need to complete the Rio Salado program as well in order to receive an Arizona license. These individuals were not even aware of the Rio Salado partnership.
  1. Ashford students were intending to complete student teaching through Rio Salado College and believed they would then automatically be eligible for an Iowa teaching license.
  1. Students were completing an online degree through Ashford in early childhood believed that this degree would lead to an Iowa teaching license. It does not.[57]

In May 2008, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit services division commenced a compliance audit of Ashford University covering the period March 10, 2005, through June 30, 2009. The OIG audit reached the following conclusions:

Audit focus[58]Audit result[59]
Compensation policies and practices relating to enrollment advisersRewarded recruiters based on their success in securing enrollments
Calculation, timeliness, and disbursement accuracy of Title IV program fundsImproperly retained at least $1.1 million during the 2006–7 period
Student authorizations to retain credit balancesKept credit balances without the proper authorization
Maintenance of supporting documentation for a student's leave of absenceTook too long to return money awarded to students who withdrew

The stock of Ashford's parent company, Bridgepoint Education, fell the most in almost five months when the misuse of federal student aid was first publicly disclosed in 2009.[58] When the official results were released in 2011, Senator Tom Harkin said this audit "reveals the same troubling pattern of for-profit colleges' taking advantage of students and taxpayers." The Department of Education has not yet responded to the findings.[59]

The audit was the subject of a U.S. Senate committee hearing on March 10, 2011.[60]

A Bloomberg News report revealed that Ashford was recruiting disabled soldiers at the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, including a Marine with a traumatic brain injury.[61]

2011 Iowa Attorney General investigation and US Senate Hearings

According to a February 15, 2011, filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ashford University and its parent company, Bridgepoint Education, received a letter from the Iowa Attorney General's office on February 9, 2011, requesting "documents and detailed information" from January 1, 2008, to the present to determine if Ashford's business practices possibly violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act.[62]

On March 10, 2011, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) chaired a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that examined a case study of Ashford's parent company, which has experienced near-exponential profit growth in the last few years despite low graduation rates. Bridgepoint owns two universities that it purchased when both were near bankruptcy, Ashford University in Iowa and the University of the Rockies in Colorado. When it purchased Ashford University in 2005, it had fewer than 300 students but in 2010 it claimed to have over 78,000 students, 99% of which were online.[63][64][65]

Senator Harkin took issue with success of the company saying that while Bridgepoint may have had record profits the students were not succeeding. According to information provided by Senator Harkin in the committee hearing, 63% of students who enrolled at Ashford University during the 2008-2009 school year withdrew before completion of their prospective program. Senator Harkin pointed out that Bridgepoint recorded more than $216 million in profits in 2010; of which 86.5 percent of its revenues come from federal funds. In reference to the dependence of Bridgepoint on public funds, Senator Harkin was quoted as saying, "I think this is a scam, an absolute scam."[64]

Kathleen Tighe, who is an inspector general with the U.S. Department of Education, testified at the hearing that in an audit of Ashford, she discovered Ashford was improperly distributing student aid to students. "Seventy-five percent of the improper disbursements to students in our sample were made to students who never became eligible," Tighe said. Bridgepoint hadn't returned the improperly obtained student aid to the federal government, and said on a recent report she'd seen that Bridgepoint was "sitting on $130 million" in these types of funds.[64]

Due to the ongoing Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) proceedings, and in order to preserve due process, Ashford's parent company, Bridgepoint Education, chose not to send executives to the HELP committee hearing while engaged in negotiations with FSA.[66] Rather, Bridgepoint published a summary of responses called Bridgepoint Education Transparency.

Audits, investigations, and lawsuits (2011-2019)

Ashford has also been audited for its recruiting and finance practices in a U.S. Department of Education audit. Bridgepoint Education responded in March 2011 with a report asserting that the information used in the Senate hearing was either inaccurate or incomplete.[67]

On December 3, 2014 a suit was filed in Arizona federal court charging that Bridgepoint Education is violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by robocalling sales prospects. Similar suits were filed in October in federal court in San Diego and the Northern District of Ohio.[68]

In 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that they were investigating Ashford University related to '"unlawful acts or practices related to the advertising, marketing or origination of private student loans."'[69]

In 2016, Bridgepoint Education received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to the potential joint resolution of investigations by the California Attorney General and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.[70]In 2016, a former senior vice president at Ashford University alleged that Bridgepoint falsified its financial reports by inaccurately projecting the student retention rate.[71] On September 12, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Bridgepoint Education, the parent company of Ashford University, $31.5 million for deceiving students about the cost of private student loans; $23.5 million is supposed to be for relief and refunds to consumers.[72] In 2016, the Iowa Department of Education notified Ashford that it would discontinue approval for GI Bill benefits after June 30.[73]

In September 2017 the Department of Veterans Affairs accepted the shift in its state-based eligibility for veterans' benefits from Iowa to Arizona, but also stated in a letter that the VA has independent regulatory authority aside from the Arizona State Approving Agency.[23][74][24] In September 2017, the VA gave Ashford approval to enroll GI Bill students indefinitely.[75]Ashford University and its parent company Bridgepoint Education were the subject of an investigation published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article included information about Bridgepoint's political moves with Arizona politicians in order to maintain GI Bill funding.
[76] In November 2017, the California Attorney General brought a lawsuit against Ashford and its parent company Bridgepoint for engaging in "unlawful marketing, sales and debt collection practices".[77]

In March 2019, Bridgepoint Education reported that it had made unreliable statements about its earnings and losses. [78]The company estimated an operating loss of $13.6-$14 million loss for the quarter ending in December 2018. [79]Ashford University was featured in an NBC News Investigates piece that aired April 14, 2019. One recruiter, Eric Dean alleged that Ashford was targeting veterans with PTSD. [80]


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