University of Phoenix: A California leader in improving regulatory oversight that benefits students

By Mark Brenner

Years ago, the Sacramento Bee urged persistence in stemming the tide of cuts to higher education. In that same editorial, the Bee decried what it called side agendas, distractions and acts of symbolism. Its Wednesday editorial—an act of symbolism of its own—called out only University of Phoenix, while ignoring our work to bring about accountability and better oversight for all colleges and universities in California and the nation.

In California, we welcomed amendments to Assembly Bill 2099, and we are confounded by the Bee’s failure to see how this, along with efforts by other public and private institutions, helped improve the bill. On Senate Bill 1247, we are perhaps the only private postsecondary institution that expressed willingness to raise fees on institutions to ensure proper enforcement of existing law. By failing to do its due diligence, the Bee has laid bare its editorial board’s myopic view of higher education today in California. Their writing also hints at a side agenda.

Had the Bee expanded its ideological horizon, it could have acknowledged that California’s economy needs a mix of private, public, nonprofit, two-year, vocational and for-profit institutions of higher education. Our people need opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals. We will support new laws, regulations and rules that root out institutions that fail to meet the highest ethical and academic standards. In fact, University of Phoenix joined consumer groups in 2012 to spearhead legislation that enabled schools like ours to permanently remove its exemption from state oversight and fall under the regulatory authority of the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. We were praised by consumer groups for this effort. Why has the Bee refused to call on the private and public schools that refused to place their own institutions under the regulatory oversight of the Bureau?

Ironically, the Bee’s editorial board and legislators in Sacramento should actually look to D.C. as a model of consensus on these important issues. President Obama’s comprehensive Executive Order 13607 establishes Principles of Excellence for institutions serving service members, veterans and their families. University of Phoenix endorsed these important principles early, and was one of the first schools in the country to adopt them. Interestingly, a recent California state audit recognized our strict adherence to the President’s order, which the Bee conveniently overlooked. A California legislative committee analysis recently pointed out that many public universities do not comply with all of the Principles of Excellence guidelines— again, a fact conspicuously missing from the Bee’s editorial.

We aggressively lobbied Congress in support of bipartisan efforts that resulted in a January 2013 law that has, among other things, expanded upon the President’s Principles of Excellence. One of the most powerful reforms put into place by Public Law 112-249, The Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act, is a centralized, multi-agency complaint tracking system that collects data from veteran and military students and state agencies regarding the quality of instruction, recruiting practices, and post-graduation employment placement. This comprehensive new system is now operated jointly by the Federal Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education and Justice, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. It was labeled a “game-changer” by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The record is clear. We embrace common-sense, necessary protections for all students across all institutions, but we will not support, biased, incomplete, and ill-conceived efforts that use flawed definitions and metrics to measure the performance of students.

Here in California, we agree with the California State Auditor that the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education needs improvement and must be fully funded and staffed to do its important work. We are actively participating in policy discussions with the Legislature to accomplish these goals.

The Bee is silent on these matters—and others—and has failed to show meaningful efforts to bring about change in higher education.

Mark Brenner is Chief of Staff of Apollo Education Group, Inc., parent company of University of Phoenix.