The University of Phoenix ( UOPX ) is an American for-profit institution of higher learning , headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona , United States. The university has an open-enrollment admission policy, requiring a high-school diploma, GED , or its equivalent as its criterion for admissions. [5] The university has 91 campuses worldwide [4] and confers degrees in over 100 degree programs at the associate , bachelor's , master's and doctoral degree levels. [6] It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Education Group Inc. , a publicly traded ( NASDAQ : ) Phoenix-based corporation that owns several for-profit educational institutions.


The university was founded by John Sperling . [7] Started in 1976, the first class consisted of eight students. [8] In 1980, the school expanded to San Jose, California , and in 1989, the university launched its online program. [9]

In 1994, University of Phoenix leaders made the decision to take the parent company, Apollo Group public. Capital from Wall Street launched the school. Phoenix had more than 100,000 students within the first five years of going public. [10] Growth in the company made John Sperling a billionaire. [2] According to Senator Tom Harkin , who chaired hearings on for-profit colleges, "I think what really turned this company is when they started going to Wall Street," he says. "[They] started raising hedge fund money, and then they had to meet quarterly reports, and all they were interested in, basically, was 'How much money ya makin'? [12]

Between 2010 and 2016, enrollment declined more than 70 percent [13] [2] [15] [3] amid multiple investigations, lawsuits and controversies. [16] [17]

In February, 2016 the Apollo Group announced it will be sold to a private investment group, made up of the Najafi Companies, Apollo Global Management and the Vistria Group, for $1 billion. Former U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Anthony W. Miller , partner and chief operating officer of Vistria, will become chairman. [18] The sale will have to be approved by both the U.S. Department of Education and the accreditation group the Higher Learning Commission in order to go forward. [17]


While the school specializes in online programs, the campuses offer additional programs and services. [2] Online students are also able to use tutoring and social centers, which can also be used for social and student meetings. The first center opened in 2007 in Plano, Texas . [2]

Students have access to class-specific online resources, which include an electronic library, textbooks, and other ancillary material required for a course. The university says that the electronic textbooks include search features and hyperlinks to glossary terms that make the books easier to use for research. [21]

In 2016 the University of Phoenix indicated plans to shrink from 91 campuses and learning centers to 67. [4]


The university offers degree programs through the following schools and colleges: [22]

  • School of Advanced Studies
  • School of Business
  • College of Security and Criminal Justice
  • College of Education
  • College of Humanities and Sciences
  • College of Information Systems and Technology
  • College of Social Sciences
  • College of Health Professions
  • School of Nursing
  • School of Health Services Administration

In addition to its traditional education programs, the school offers continuing education courses for teachers and practitioners, professional development courses for companies, and specialized courses of study for military personnel. [23]

Students spend 20 to 24 hours with an instructor during each course, compared with about 40 hours at a traditional university. The university requires students to collaborate by working on learning team projects, wherein the class is divided into learning teams of four to five students. Each learning team is assigned a team forum where team members discuss the project and submit their agreed upon portions of the learning team assignment for compilation by the nominated learning team leader. [24]

Through its online portal, eCampus, students also have access to software required for coursework. Students have access to virtual companies created by the university to provide students with assignments, which Adam Honea, UOPX's dean and provost , claims are more realistic than those available with case studies . [25] In August 2011, Apollo group announced it would buy 100% of Carnegie Learning to accelerate its efforts to incorporate adaptive learning into its academic platform. [26]

Some academics and former students argue the abbreviated courses and the use of learning teams result in an inferior education. [27] [28] The University of Phoenix has been criticized for lack of academic rigor. Henry M. Levin, a professor of higher education at Teachers College at Columbia University , called its business degree an "MBA Lite," saying "I've looked at [its] course materials. It's a very low level of instruction." [27]

Corporate training

The university runs a program called "corporate articulation agreements" that allows people who work at some companies to earn college credit for the training they have completed at their jobs. As of December 2015, the university had agreements in place with around 300 companies. [29]

To qualify for college credit, students can either create a professional training portfolio or write an "experiential essay". [29] A professional training portfolio is a collection of documents such as transcripts from other schools, certificates, licenses, workshops or seminars. [30]

Admissions and financial aid

The University of Phoenix has an open admissions policy. [31] In 2010 the university began an orientation program designed to lower dropout and default rates. [32] Students must successfully complete a three-week orientation workshop in order to be eligible to start their first credit/cost bearing course. [33] Students who do not complete the workshop after two attempts must wait six months before attempting again.

Phoenix recruited students using high-pressure sales tactics, including making claims that classes were filling fast, [34] by admissions counselors who are paid, in part, based on their success in recruiting students. [28] Since 2010, changes were implemented to the way the university recruits students. [35]

The university recruits students and obtains financial aid on their behalf, [34] such as the Academic Competitiveness Grant , Federal Pell Grant , National Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant) , Federal Direct Student Loan Program , Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant , Federal Direct PLUS Loans , Federal Perkins Loan , and the Wounded Warrior Project . [36] For the 2008–2009 fiscal year, the University of Phoenix student body received more Pell Grant money ($656.9 million) than any other university. [37]

USA Today has listed University of Phoenix as a "red flag" institution for posting a student loan default rate (26%) that surpassed its graduation rate (17%). [38] A 2010 report found that the University of Phoenix's online graduation rate was only 5 percent. [39]

According to the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, the University of Phoenix's average annual cost was $14,166 (about average). The average graduate earned $53,000 a year (above average). The institution's graduation rate was 20% (significantly below average). [40] While the average graduate may earn above average, it must be taken into account that the target audience is mainly working adults who are already financially independent. "Phoenix targets non-traditional students that are not between the age of 18 and 24, not living on campus and are not supported by parents." [5]


The University of Phoenix has been regionally accredited since 1978 by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) as a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). In February 2013, a peer review group recommended to the HLC that the university be put on probation because the University of Phoenix "has insufficient autonomy relative to its parent corporation." [5] On May 9, 2013, the Apollo Group filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission which stated that the HLC Institutional Actions Council First Committee ("IACFC") had recommended to the HLC that the university retain its regional accreditation, but that the university be placed on "notice" for two years. Their concerns center on the university's governance, student assessment, and faculty scholarship in relation to PhD programs. [5] In July 2015, the Higher Learning Commission removed University of Phoenix from Notice Status. [5]

Some individual colleges within the University of Phoenix hold specialty accreditation or are pre-accredited by accrediting agencies that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation .

Organization and administration

University of Phoenix is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Group, a S&P 500 corporation based in Phoenix, Arizona. In February 2016, the company announced it will be acquired by a consortium of private equity investors. [52] The deal is estimated at $9.50 per share for all of the campuses across the nation. The total price will be approximately $1.1 billion. The deal is subject to approval of shareholders. The university reported enrollment of 176,900 in Q1 2016. This is compared to 227,400 in Q1 2015. The Apollo Group is looking to close 150 campuses across the country, and reported a Q1 2016 loss of $45.2 million. [52]


Apollo Group, University of Phoenix's parent company, spends between $376 million and $655 million per year on advertising and marketing, which includes the University of Phoenix brand. Much of this advertising is Internet advertising. [53]

The university paid $154.5 million for 20-year naming rights for advertising purposes of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona , a municipal sports arena, home of the NFL 's Arizona Cardinals , and the site of the NCAA 's Fiesta Bowl . The university does not participate in intercollegiate sports. [54]

In 2016, talk show celebrity Ellen Degeneres gave 10 scholarships to viewers of her show. [55]

Political and corporate alliances

Several American policymakers have been affiliated with the University of Phoenix and its parent company, Apollo Group. Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings , has been a member of the Apollo Group Board of Directors. [56] Jane Oates, a former staffer for Senator Ted Kennedy and the Department of Labor, became the Apollo Group's vice president for external in 2013. [57] US Representative Nancy Pelosi 's close friendship with University of Phoenix founder John Sperling has been documented by Suzanne Mettler in her book Degrees of Inequality. [58]

University of Phoenix has also had an alliances with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America . [59] In November 2014, University of Phoenix partnered with 47 historically black colleges and universities to offer UoP classes that transfer to these institutions. [60]

In 2016, University of Phoenix partnered with the ASIS Foundation to provide scholarships for students studying for security-related degrees. In March 2016, the first ten scholarship recipients were announced. [7]


Some critics of for-profit higher education have alleged that Apollo Education Group and University of Phoenix "prey upon veterans". [7] [7]

A co-founder of University of Phoenix, John D. Murphy, wrote in Mission Forsaken (2013) about the school's devolution from a provider of working adult continuing education programs into a money making machine whose sole criterion for admission was eligibility for federally funded student loans. [64]

University of Phoenix students owe more than $35,000,000,000 in student loan debt, the most of any US college. [65]

Since 2009, the University of Phoenix has received $1.2 billion of federal money issued through the G.I. Bill . The university enrolled almost 50,000 such students in 2014, twice as many as any other institution. [7]

Lawsuits and investigations

The university has paid several government fines and settled whistle-blower lawsuits concerning its admissions practices and education programs. [7] In 2000, the federal government fined the university $6 million for including study-group meetings as instructional hours. In 2002, the Department of Education relaxed requirements on instructional hours. [27] [7]

A 2003 lawsuit filed by two former university recruiters alleged that the university improperly obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid by paying its admission counselors based on the number of students they enrolled, a violation of the Higher Education Act . [27] The university's parent company settled by paying the government $67.5 million, plus $11 million in legal fees, without admitting any wrongdoing. [69] [7]

In 2004, the Department of Education alleged that UOPX again violated Higher Education Act provisions that prohibit offering financial incentives to admission representatives and pressured its recruiters to enroll students. [70] UOPX disputed the findings but paid a $9.8 million fine as part of a settlement where it admitted no wrongdoing and was not required to return any financial aid funds. [71] [72] [34] The university also paid $3.5 million to the Department of Labor to settle a violation of overtime compensation regarding hours worked by UOPX's recruiters. [73] [74] The University of Phoenix settled a false-claims suit for $78.5 million in 2009 over its recruiter-pay practices. [75]

In 2008, the university was the top recipient of student financial aid funds, receiving nearly $2.48 billion. [76] In 2009, the Department of Education produced a report that claimed the untimely return of unearned Title IV funds for more than 10 percent of sampled students. The report also expressed concern that some students register and begin attending classes before completely understanding the implications of enrollment, including their eligibility for student financial aid. In January 2010, the parent company Apollo Group was required to post a letter of credit for $125 million by January 30 of the same year. [77] In 2010, UOPX came under government scrutiny after its Phoenix and Philadelphia campuses were found to have been engaging in deceptive enrollment practices and fraudulent solicitation of FAFSA funds. [78]

In 2014 the US Department of Education 's Office of the Inspector General demanded records from the University of Phoenix and its parent company Apollo Group going back to 2007 "related to marketing, recruitment, enrollment, financial aid, fraud prevention, [and] student retention." [79]

In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense suspended the university's ability to recruit on U.S. military bases and receive federal funding for educating members of the U.S. military. In describing the suspension, The Washington Post noted that "the decision arrives amid allegations that the university sponsored recruiting events in violation of an executive order preventing for-profit colleges from gaining preferential access to the military." [9] Some federal legislators, including U.S. Senators John McCain , Jeff Flake , and Lamar Alexander protested [9] the suspension, which was lifted in January 2016. [9]

In 2016, stockholders of Apollo Education Group filed a class-action lawsuit against the corporation, arguing that the company withheld information that led to significant losses in stock prices. Several of the allegations are related to University of Phoenix's recruiting of military personnel and veterans. [83] [84]



The University of Phoenix claimed a peak enrollment of almost 600,000 students in 2010, but its numbers have declined to 155,600 as of May 2016. [3]

Various reasons have been given for the enrollment drop (and more than 100 campus closings). An article in the Wall Street Journal attributed the drop to operational changes amid criticism of high debt loads and low job prospects for students of for-profit colleges, while an article in Buzzfeed attributed it to operational changes including the implementation of student orientation, a free three week trial period and a new entrance exam. [85]

The average age of a University of Phoenix undergraduate student is 33. The average graduate student is 36. [9] In 2007-08 the institution stated that nearly two-thirds of its students were women and that a plurality of students attending the school studied business (undergraduate students representing 29.9% and graduate students 12.9%), followed closely by those enrolled in Axia College for associate degrees (28.1%). [9] [88]

The university graduates the largest number of underrepresented students with master's degrees in business, health care, and education of any U.S. school. [10] [90]

In 2013, the US Department of Defense ended its contract with University of Phoenix for military bases in Europe. [10]

When calculated using the standards set by the Department of Education, the university's overall graduation rate in 2007 was 16 percent, which, when compared with the national average of 55 percent, was among the nation's lowest. The federal standard measured graduation rates as the percentage of first-time undergraduates who obtain a degree within six years. [27]

The university acknowledged the 16-percent graduation rate but took exception to the standard used by the Department of Education to calculate the rate, saying that the rate was based upon criteria that applied to only seven percent of the university's student population. [28] The university published its own graduation rate of 59 percent to account for its large population of non-traditional students. [27]


The institution depends heavily on contingent faculty: 95 percent of Phoenix instructors teach part-time, compared to an average of 47 percent nationwide. This reliance on part-time faculty has been criticized by regulators and academic critics. Most of the classes are centrally crafted and standardized to ensure consistency and to maximize profits. Additionally, no faculty members get tenure . [27] [28]

According to a university officer, pre-screened instructional candidates participate in a training program in the discipline in which they teach, which has the effect of weeding out 40 percent to 50 percent of the "less-committed" or -capable applicants. [10]

African-Americans make up 18.6 percent of the university's 22,000 faculty members, and 5.6 percent are Latino [93] Women make up 57% of the faculty. [93]

Adjuncts make approximately $1000–$2000 per course. [10]


More than 925,000 alumni are counted as graduates of the University, according to the new president of the University. [10] Phoenix alumni in the government sector include White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt , [10] former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters ('94), [10] and member of the Utah House of Representatives Brad Dee ('91). [10]

In military and law enforcement, alumni include U.S. Navy Admiral Kirkland H. Donald , [2] and Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Harold Hurtt ('91). [2] MSNBC anchor and a host of NBC's Early Today Christina Brown is also an alumna of the university. [2]

Athletes who have earned degrees from the university include four-time NBA Championship -winner Shaquille O'Neal ('05), [2] three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie , [2] and professional tennis player Michael Russell ('12). [2]