- A dozen higher education organizations and policy advocates are calling on the U.S. Department of Education to bar the University of Arizona Global Campus, or UAGC, from accessing Title IV federal student financial aid.
- In a letter this week, the groups argued that the college, previously known as Ashford University, should be ineligible for Title IV aid because of a recent California court ruling in a lawsuit brought in 2017. The court fined the university's former owner $22.4 million for misleading students about program costs and career outcomes.
- The groups — which include New America and the Center for American Progress, both left-leaning think tanks — also urged the Ed Department to provide student loan discharges to people who attended Ashford from 2009 to 2020. They say the agency should make the university liable for those costs.
The impact of the recent ruling against Ashford and its former owner, Zovio — which changed its name from Bridgepoint Education in 2019 — has rippled beyond the courtroom. The fine also dealt a blow to the reputation of UAGC, whose enrollment had already been suffering in recent years.
UAGC is a roughly 28,000-student online college that attempts to attract working adults and student veterans. The University of Arizona bought the for-profit school from Zovio in December 2020 to build out its online offerings and make inroads with nontraditional students.
"This letter is referencing several old allegations and mischaracterizes many facts," UAGC said in an emailed statement.
"UAGC, affiliated with the University of Arizona, is a new school with a new leadership team, new guidelines and procedures and a student centric focus. It is a robust university that endeavors to responsibly serve students well and these attacks are harming students, the majority of whom are nontraditional and rely on UAGC as their path to higher education and improving their lives."
The statement also noted that the court refused to grant an injunction against Zovio. The ruling determined there was not substantial evidence that misrepresentations continued past 2017.
The University of Arizona struck a similar chord. Gail Burd, a senior vice provost for the university, said in an emailed statement that the letter was drafted by a group that has spread imprecise information about the institution's actions regarding the online college.
"We are very disappointed they have now chosen to lobby against our efforts with the DOE, but it does not impact our resolve to secure a better academic and personal future for the 28,000 students currently enrolled," Burd said.
UAGC has faced a barrage of criticism in recent years, including from those concerned that past allegations against the institution could harm the University of Arizona's reputation. Staunch opponents of UAGC are now using the recent court ruling to argue that the federal government should stop the flow of student aid to the university.
Last week, for instance, UAGC told students it temporarily lost approval to receive GI Bill benefits.
Although the university said it is working with federal and state agencies to resume the funding, Veterans Education Success, an advocacy organization, urged the Department of Veteran Affairs to permanently shut off UAGC's access to GI Bill benefits. The group's president argued that the recent ruling found UAGC made misrepresentations to students that should render it ineligible to receive the aid.
The letter this week to the Ed Department makes similar arguments. It cites federal law that says institutions become ineligible for Title IV aid if a court determines they committed fraud. The letter's authors also reference a law barring institutions receiving Title IV funding from contracting with organizations that have been "judicially determined" to have committed fraud.
Zovio no longer owns UAGC, but the company still has close ties to the university. Through a 15-year contract, it provides services including marketing and recruitment to the university in exchange for a cut of tuition revenue.
The groups called out this relationship in the letter. "Although the illegal conduct in the California Attorney General's lawsuit occurred before Zovio subsumed Ashford University into UAGC, the schools are one and the same; UAGC is providing an Ashford education under a different packaging."
Vickie Schray, chief external affairs officer for Zovio, hit back against the letter in an emailed statement.
"The letter uses a judgment that is still subject to appeal, concerning alleged behavior from many years ago, about a company now under different management, to call for punitive retribution that would impact thousands of students at a university that was never a party to the case in question," Schray wrote.
Zovio brought on a new CEO, Randy Hendricks, late last year.
An Education Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the agency is committed to rigorously overseeing "high-risk institutions that may be at risk of closure" and closely reviews lawsuits, investigations and actions by state partners in order to "ensure appropriate measures are taken."
This article has been updated to include a comment from the University of Arizona.