Depends on What Accountable Means

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So now the University of Phoenix, the gigantic, for-profit behemoth of higher education, is embracing accountability. For the last two years, the school has released an annual progress report.

The progress report is self-serving. This is normal; universities and companies release flattering annual reports. But Doug Lederman writes at Inside Higher Ed that Phoenix’s decision to release academic information is to be commended:

Phoenix… remains virtually alone among its peers in the for-profit sector of higher education in revealing this sort of information. While several other sectors and groups of colleges and universities have created public accountability frameworks in recent years — including one, College Choices for Adults, in which some corporate colleges participate — private sector colleges have yet to make public this kind of data in any coordinated way. That’s despite the fact that many leaders among the colleges agree that their biggest challenge going forward is to prove, through data-driven, independent means, that they are successfully educating students.

The trouble with this, and the reason this accountability is not likely to go far is that, when compared to normal colleges, for-profit schools are not really that successful at educating students.

The federal standard for an institution’s graduation rate looks at “the percentage of first-time undergraduates who obtain a degree within six years”. By this standard, Phoenix’s graduation rate is 16 percent. The nation’s average is about 55 percent.

That graduation rate is not the only measure of success for a university, however. Phoenix does make its investors money. The price of shares of Apollo Group Inc. , the company that owns the school, rose more than 8 percent when Phoenix was recertified last month.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer