- The University of Arizona announced Tuesday that it completed its acquisition of Ashford University, a for-profit online college with some 35,000 students.
- Craig Swenson, previously Ashford's president, will lead the new entity, which will be called the University of Arizona Global Campus.
- The U.S. Department of Education is expected to review the deal after closing.
Although the deal has cleared several regulatory hurdles, a perhaps bigger challenge will be reconciling Global Campus and UA Online, the university's online degree platform.
Critics of the deal have highlighted overlap between some Global Campus and UA Online programs. They've also noted that the new entity's name could be confused with U of Arizona Global, which handles the university's international offerings.
During a faculty senate meeting on the eve of the deal's close, a committee established to examine the acquisition shared recommendations for the administration's work with Global Campus. Several of them concern distinguishing Global Campus' programs from UA Online's.
The committee advised Global Campus be renamed. And they encouraged the university to form a committee of academic representatives from programs and colleges with overlap between UA Online and Global Campus to examine degrees and course requirements "such that they are neither duplicated nor outsourced to" Global Campus.
Global Campus will contract with Ashford's former owner, Zovio, for educational services. And the company's marketing budget "creates a challenge" for U of Arizona online programs that overlap with Global Campus offerings, according to a committee report. For that reason, the committee proposes the university implement a "mechanism to enhance financial support" for marketing its programs.
The committee also suggests creating a group to monitor and audit Zovio's marketing, recruitment and financial aid practices. The company is being sued by California's attorney general over allegations it misled students, which it denies. It is also part of a probe by the Massachusetts attorney general into whether for-profit colleges followed consumer protection laws.
Further, the committee says the university should make "ample financial investments" in the new entity to improve student outcomes.
Ashford's accreditor also pointed out the need for differentiation in its approval of the deal last month. Additionally, it is requiring Global Campus to send a report within 90 days of the transaction's close that explains how it will improve retention and graduation rates. Ashford's poor student outcomes prompted a notice of concern from the accreditor in 2019 and its provisions remain in effect.
The committee also emphasized Global Campus should be given the resources needed to improve student outcomes, suggesting that performance metrics focused on its enrollment and net tuition revenue could be detrimental to that goal.
U of Arizona President Robert Robbins, who participated in the call, appeared to support the report.
He also floated the idea of bringing Ashford into the university, rather than keeping it as a standalone entity. "That'll be a big strategic decision to make in the coming months," he said.
That idea is likely to face pushback. One faculty senator expressed concern about Robbins' statement during the call, saying faculty had been assured the entities would remain separate. And Gary Rhoades, co-chair of the committee and a higher education professor at U of Arizona, told Education Dive in a phone interview that the president's suggestion was "completely unprecedented."
A university representative did not provide answers to Education Dive's emailed follow-up questions about its position on the committee's recommendation and Robbins' comment about potentially absorbing Ashford.
The deal has met strong resistance from faculty along the way, though Rhoades and Leila Hudson, a committee co-chair and faculty senator, framed the guidelines as forward-looking.
"What we're wanting is a meaningful and thoughtful ... strategy for how we're going to position ourselves, UA Online, relative not only to (Global Campus) but also ASU, Southern New Hampshire University, Grand Canyon University," Rhoades said during the meeting.