Three for-profit institutions owned by publicly traded companies are facing additional scrutiny from their accreditor about their recruiting practices.
The University of Phoenix disclosed its involvement in the inquiry last month. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the university's parent company, the Apollo Group, reported that the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools was seeking more information about Phoenix's admissions and financial-aid practices. The filing said the inquiry was a continuation of an investigation that the accreditor began in August, following an undercover investigation of 15 for-profit colleges by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that was presented to a U.S. Senate committee.
In August the Higher Learning Commission had announced that it would be investigating institutions that it accredited whose practices were questioned by the GAO. In addition to the University of Phoenix, those institutions were a campus of Argosy University in Illinois, Everest College Phoenix, and a Westwood College campus in Dallas. Westwood, which was never fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, withdrew its application for accreditation in November for a number of reasons.
Though the commission has never identified the institutions it is investigating by name, Sylvia Manning, president of the commission, confirmed this month that her agency was seeking additional information from the three institutions that remain under its jurisdiction.
Ms. Manning declined to say what the commission was seeking because its inquiry was still under way. Like other accrediting bodies, the Higher Learning Commission is itself facing tougher scrutiny from Congress and federal regulators. During a Senate hearing last month, Ms. Manning acknowledged that the commission had been "behind the curve" in its oversight of fast-growing for-profit colleges, but was now catching up.
In its SEC filing, Apollo reported that a special committee of the accrediting body was seeking the additional information because of lingering questions about the company's oversight of recruiting, admissions, and financial-aid practices at Phoenix, "and the ability of those practices to serve students effectively while providing them with clear and accurate information." The commission is expected to issue a final report by May or June, Apollo said.
Kent Jenkins, a Spokesman for Corinthian Colleges, which owns Everest College Phoenix, said on Tuesday that Corinthian was preparing a "detailed response" to the commission's questions about admissions and financial-aid procedures at the 6,400-student institution. Everest College Phoenix has been on probation with the accreditor and was ordered to show that its teaching and administration met commission standards or it would lose accreditation altogether. Only accredited colleges can participate in federal student-aid programs.
Officials from Education Management Corporation, which owns Argosy, did not respond to several phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
A spokesman for Westwood's parent company, Alta Colleges, said it would neither confirm nor deny whether it had been subject to the accreditor's initial inquiry, nor comment on whether its pre-existing accreditors had raised similar issues. The company says it has retrained its admissions officers in the wake of the GAO investigation.
(Excerpted from the April 12, 2011 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, article by Goldie Blumenstyk.)
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