SPOKANE — Three Democratic U.S. senators sent a letter to the University of Idaho this week urging administrators to ditch the school’s plans to buy the University of Phoenix.
The letter — penned by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — criticized the University of Phoenix’s controversial past as a for-profit college and warned the purchase jeopardizes UI’s reputation.
“Many for-profit colleges have a long history of preying on vulnerable students — including veterans, low-income students, and students of color,” the senators wrote. “Phoenix is no exception.”
Back in June, Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador filed a lawsuit accusing the Idaho State Board of Education of breaking the state’s open meetings law when it met to discuss UI’s plans to buy the University of Phoenix behind closed doors.
The state board unanimously voted to approve the acquisition at a special meeting in May, following UI’s public announcement that a not-for-profit it operates planned to buy the Phoenix school.
In Monday’s letter, the senators wrote Phoenix’s record of “entanglements in federal investigations and enforcement actions” has harmed people in Idaho and across the United States, leaving students with “piles of debt and either a near-worthless degree or no degree at all.”
The letter pointed to a $191 million lawsuit settlement between the University of Phoenix and the Federal Trade Commission over deceptive advertising.
“Phoenix’s graduation rate is just 27%,” the senators wrote. “Furthermore, median earnings 10 years after enrolling at Phoenix are $39,382, and only 48% of graduates earn more than a high school graduate. By comparison, UI’s graduation rate is 60%, and median earnings 10 years after enrolling at UI are $51,325 with 67% of graduates earning more than a high school graduate.”
The letter to UI President C. Scott Green also included a list of questions for the university’s administration.
On Wednesday, UI Spokesperson Jodi Walker sent The Spokesman-Review a copy of the university’s response to the letter.
UI administrators wrote that the University of Phoenix was taken over by a new management team in 2017, and it has improved its transparency and support of students.
“After significant due diligence by world class regulatory and other advisors, we see no evidence regarding your concern that the UOPX will abuse students,” the response reads.
Green’s letter also responds to the senators’ worries that UI faculty and staff were concerned by the purchase, saying the “vast majority” of UI employees and alumni support them buying the University of Phoenix.
After the deal is closed, Green wrote, the universities plan to continue operating separately, but the administration intends to “build educational pathways” from UI to Phoenix to benefit Idaho students.
The link to a UI web page with frequently asked questions about the Phoenix purchase was included in the letter.
The University of Phoenix sent The Spokesman-Review a statement Wednesday evening, stating it intends to affiliate with the University of Idaho through goals that include increased access and support for students.
“We are pleased the University of Idaho provided a detailed response to the senators’ letter and look forward to continuing our work together toward finalizing this transaction,” university spokesperson Andrea Smiley wrote.
Ellen Dennis’ work is funded in part by members of the Spokane community via the Community Journalism and Civic Engagement Fund. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.