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Did The NYT Get It Wrong On The University Of Phoenix?

By Alexander Russo — February 13, 2007 1 min read
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Yesterday, I told you how a NYT story about the University of Phoenix might have been just a wee bit too comfortably critical of nontraditional (for-profit) education compared to traditional education.

Today the University of Phoenix fired back, describing the NYT story as unfair, misleading, and “symptomatic of a prevailing bias against non-traditional higher education.” The U of P not liking the story and writing an angry letter is one thing. But did the Times get the story wrong or present it misleadingly? Based on a very preliminary scan, it may have. The most damning of the University’s claims are that the Times (Sam Dillon wrote the story) wildly overplayed the notion that the University’s graduation rate as just 16 percent, when that figure applies only to the tiny portion of the UofP’s students who are “traditional” (ie, fulltime, 18-24, etc.) and are reported to the feds.

Only 7 percent of Phoenix students fit that description, according to the school. But the Times story presents it as representative of the whole. The mismatch between federal data collections and the real-world mix of students that many schools, not just UofP, have, is not reflected in the story.

According to the Times, "The university says that its graduation rate, using the federal standard, is 16 percent, which is among the nation’s lowest, according to Department of Education data. But the university has dozens of campuses, and at many, the rate is even lower...The official rates at some University of Phoenix campuses are extremely low — 6 percent at the Southern California campus, 4 percent among online students — and he acknowledged extraordinary attrition among younger students."

The UofP letter also points out (as I did in my Monday post) that the institution is regionally accredited like many traditional schools, and is “the most examined university in higher education.”

I’m not saying that the University of Phoenix is the best thing since sliced bread, or that the Times definitively got it wrong. But I do know that far fewer students fit the traditional model than they used to, and it makes sense that would be the case even more so at a place like UofP. The Times story doesn’t reflect that reality very well, mentioning other graduation rates but calling the 16 percent figure the “official” number -- which it may well be if you’re the USDE, but I’m not sure that’s the point here.

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