Advocates: Students at Risk as AU Global Campus Problems Grow | Subscriber

Students at an online school affiliated with the University of Arizona who receive education benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration “may wish to consider transferring to another program or school,” wrote Thursday the VA in a letter to students.

This is because the University of Arizona Global Campus is experiencing a sudden failure in its ability to collect military education benefits. According to the letter, the VA does not want the approximately 3,500 students who use their GI bill to pay to attend UA Global Campus to lose the full scope of offers they have earned through their military service. These students brought in approximately $16.5 million in income to the school in 2020.

UA Global Campus President and CEO Paul Pastorek said in a statement that the school “will do everything in its power to keep students in class” during the period.

But this is the latest in a series of worrying developments for UA Global Campus and its 28,000 students. The majority of these students are non-traditional students, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, using some form of federal aid to pay for their education.

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Now, a dozen education advocacy groups want the US Department of Education to stop the UA Global Campus from collecting federal financial aid, “to protect the integrity of the student loan system.”

This comes a month after a California judge ruled over the for-profit Ashford University, which is what UA Global Campus was called before UA acquired its assets and turned it into a nonprofit in 2020. In the latest of several lawsuits filed against the school over the past decade, the judge ordered Ashford and its former parent company Zovio to pay $22.4 million in restitution for lying to students about the cost and quality of an education at Ashford.

On top of that, UA Global Campus is facing ongoing accreditation issues as well as the falling market performance of Zovio, who is in a 15-year contract with UA Global Campus through which he receives 19, 5% of the school’s tuition income for recruitment. , financial aid, technology and academic support services.

All of this is causing education advocates to sound the alarm about the school AU plans to absorb as part of a larger effort to grow its online education footprint.

Call for the removal of federal aid

“If I was a student, I definitely wouldn’t be enrolling right now given all the uncertainty,” said Bob Shireman, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who has been outspoken in criticizing the UA Global Campus deal. “UA’s reputation has already been tarnished and the University of Arizona must step out of its marriage to Zovio and do the right thing for its students.”

A few days ago, Shireman joined 11 other advocacy organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for Responsible Lending, to co-sign a call to action to the US Department of Education.

They asked the department to “immediately restrict UAGC’s access to federal student aid” unless and until “an appeal reverses the numerous findings of fraud,” referring to the ruling. of the Californian judge of March 3 concerning Ashford and Zovio.

The letter cited a federal law that states that if a school “has been judicially determined to have committed fraud” involving Title IV funding (which includes several forms of federal educational assistance, such as Pell grants and loans federal students), she is not eligible to receive these funds.

The letter also offered precedent for such action, reminding the department that in 2016 it halted Title IV funding for the for-profit Minnesota School of Business and its related school, Globe University, after a court ruled. found the schools guilty of consumer protection violations. .

Despite the deposition of a former UA Global Campus employee who referred to the UA-affiliated school as the same institution as Ashford “under a different name”, the March judge’s decision against Ashford and Zovio has said there was “insufficient evidence of continued misconduct” after 2017, when the complaint was filed.

This is the point that UA Global Campus officials are highlighting following the letter to the Department of Education.

“This letter references several old allegations and misrepresents many facts,” Linda Roberston, spokeswoman for UA Global Campus, said in an email. “UAGC, affiliated with the University of Arizona, is a new school with a new leadership team, new policies and procedures, and a student-centered orientation.”

Zovio in “peril”

But given Zovio’s significant involvement in the day-to-day operations of the school, David Halperin, an independent attorney and higher education advocate who also signed the letter to the Education Department, said he doesn’t Wasn’t sure if that statement was true.

“Zovio is still the courage of UAGC,” he said.

According to him, what is most troubling about the AU’s partnership with Zovio “is that they are essentially creating a predatory revenue stream that takes money from low-income people who will have to repay loans and use to subsidize the education of more privileged who may be admitted to the main campus.

But Halperin, who wants to see UA help UAGC students find other schools to go to or get refunds, said there were signs that investors in Zovio at least “are finally realizing of the peril that this company is in because of its own bad behavior.”

After reporting a 38.6% decline in year-over-year earnings during the third quarter of 2021, Zovio, which is a publicly traded company, canceled its scheduled call with investors to discuss its earnings. of the fourth quarter last week. Zovio did not respond to the Arizona Daily Star’s request for comment on the decision.

It’s unclear whether the Department of Education, which has yet to recognize UA Global Campus’s nonprofit status, will consider Zovio’s difficult financial situation. But when the Star asked the department how seriously it took the letter Halperin and others recently sent, a spokesperson said it was “engaged in rigorous oversight of high-risk institutions that may shut down” and that it “was closely reviewing the lawsuit(s), investigations and other actions of our state partners to ensure appropriate action is taken.

The results of this review are still awaited.

What is known, however, is that because the UA and the UA Foundation are now providing the financial support for the online school, the University of Arizona is now jointly and severally liable – possibly as much as $1 billion, according to a previous statement by AU Chairman Robert Robbins, should the department cut federal aid to the AU Global Campus.

Students ‘feel the pain’

The fact that federal veterans assistance, which is not part of Title IV funding, is already not available for UA Global Campus is concerning enough for some education advocates.

“The reality is that there are thousands of schools in America and none of them are facing this unique situation that is purely based on UAGC decisions,” said William Hubbard, vice-president. chair for veterans and military policy at Veterans Education Success, which is one of the advocacy organizations that signed the letter to the Department of Education.

“It’s shocking that they are so reckless with the welfare of their students, but not surprising given their long history of bad behavior,” he said. “Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it is their students who feel the pain.”

The expiration of VA benefits, which includes housing allowances, occurred after the California State Endorsing Agency for Veterans Education notified the school on March 31 that it was n would no longer approve of VA benefits after the school moved its headquarters from California to Arizona.

The school applied for benefits eligibility with the Arizona state approval agency in December, expecting that decision to be made now, but the agency has not yet approved the request.

“We understand that many are awaiting our decision on this. Our ultimate responsibility is to serve and care for students affiliated with the military,” the Arizona state endorsement agency said in an email to the Star. “We do this by exercising due diligence and ensuring schools meet all standards required by the U.S. Code and all applicable regulations.”

In a letter sent to the VA, Veterans Education Success President Carrie Wofford asked the organization “not to accept the request of another state approving agency to take over the approval of VA programs. UAGC”.

While the school awaits the decision from the approving agency, UA Global Campus is offering grants to cover the gap created for GI Bill recipients, although it does not pay housing allowances.

Without this housing allowance, many students “would be forced to work a second or even a third job to make ends meet,” Hubbard said. “Staying in school would no longer be an option.”

“Stop digging that hole”

The education and welfare of UA Global Campus students is also a major concern of UA faculty members, one vocal faction of which opposed the deal from the outset and accused the administrators not to include faculty, as they are obligated to do, in the decision-making process.

At the Arizona Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, Leila Hudson, UA faculty senator and incoming faculty president, called on the board, which publicly endorsed UA’s decision to absorb UA Global Campus, to proceed with “an orderly resolution of this moral problem”. unacceptable and financially dangerous situation” in “full Arizona sunshine, not behind closed doors”.

In an interview with the Star, Hudson opined that removing federal funding from the online school, according to the letter sent to the Department of Education, “would help prevent prospective students from being drawn there.”

She acknowledged, however, that it would also leave “students currently enrolled in this entity in another layer of entanglement and victimization.”

But with all she knows about Zovio and his history with the students, she says, “it might be appropriate to just stop digging that hole.”

Kathryn Palmer covers higher education for the Arizona Daily Star. Contact her by email at [email protected] or her new phone number, 520-496-9010.

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