By Peter Galuszka
The pioneer of for-profit, digital education that we all so love and respect on this blog is in trouble.
The University of Phoenix, a behemoth, has announced it is closing down 115 of its on-site locations, including 25 main campuses and 90 smaller ones, according to The New York Times.
About 800 Phoenix workers out of 17,000 will be laid off and 13,000 of its 328,000 students will be affected.
One reason for the downsizing is competition in the fast-growing world of digital ed, but there’s another reason. Phoenix and its owner Ap0llo have been trashed repeatedly for recruiting scams, low graduation rates and high defaults on its pricey tuition. Its not alone. Kaplan Higher Education (owned by The Washington Post where I sometimes contribute and write on a freelance basis) is in similar trouble.
These are warning signs in the mad dash towards praising digital ed as the only thing worth talking about in higher ed. My view is that the new form has its place but cannot replace entirely old-fashioned classrooms with real professors and real students and real debate and lab sessions.
It is incomprehensible that a lower tier school like Liberty in Lynchburg that is only now shaking off the reputation of Rev. Jerry Falwell boasts of having a student body of more than 80,000. Translated, they have found 80,000 people with credit cards willing to sign up for a course without showing any credentials. It’s not exactly like getting a fat envelope in the mail from Harvard.
I know DigEd boosters will tell me that it’s the magic and the market and all that. But be warned.