University of Phoenix: Eating an Elephant One Bite At a Time


I earned my undergraduate English degree twenty years ago from a “traditional” college–almost everyone on the campus was young and attending school full-time. However, peppered within some of the classes were older students who were working toward something called a Bachelor’s of Liberal Studies. These women (they were all women) tended to be moms from the surrounding area who had stayed home to raise their children and were now, for the first time, focusing on their own educations and careers.

To a woman: they were living, breathing, sweater-set wearing nightmares.

If a professor asked for a 3-5 page paper, BLS students would write six pages–and then try to turn the assignment in early. Typically, at the beginning of any class, I’d be groggily attempting to rub a coffee stain off the cover of my latest project while the BLS student alongside me would be cheerfully explaining how, with just an embroidery needle and some dental floss, she’d professionally bound the pages of her latest paper into hand-sewn folio signatures. And then made cookies.

I understand the hunger for learning these women had better now that I’ve stayed home for 15 years raising two children of my own. Now I’m going to become one of them: a nontraditional student.

A couple of months ago the editors at GeekMom approached me with a proposition: I could take a class at University of Phoenix, any class that I wanted, online or at a campus–for free. In return, I just had to blog honestly about my experiences for GeekMom. If the initial experiment went well, this assignment had the potential to become an ongoing commitment where I would be invited to take multiple classes–even pursue a formal program.

Theoretically, everyone involved would benefit from this arrangement: University of Phoenix would be guaranteed informed, continuous media exposure; would receive advertising revenue from University of Phoenix; I would be personally enriched by a tremendous professional opportunity (as well as by the class, itself); and you, our readers, would get to hear me gush extensively about the relative merits of online APA format generators (which along with computers and the “cut and paste” function of word-processing programs were not a part of my initial undergraduate experience back in the late ’80’s)…

Ideally, you would also read my analysis of an online, for-profit university experience and come away with insight into whether or not it was something that would benefit you. Despite the convenience these schools can offer to working individuals who may be juggling the additional responsibilities of child-rearing or active-duty military commitments, for-profit universities (and University of Phoenix, in particular) have garnered a substantial amount of negative publicity in the last few years, including (in 2007) allegations of:

  • Low graduation rates (particularly among younger students),
  • Student-recruitment abuses (i.e., recruiters given incentives to admit unqualified students),
  • Unqualified, disengaged instructors,
  • Over-dependence on part-time faculty,
  • An over-reliance on team-learning and independent learning, and
  • Too much material crammed into too few sessions.

My intent is to look into these criticisms as an enrolled student and share my observations, opinions and experiences with the GeekMom audience–particularly in regard to whether or not these allegations are still legitimate. As this assignment progresses, I would also be interested in hearing from other moms about their online or for-profit university experiences: What do you think works and what needs to be changed? Is the experience I am having (workload, instructor pedigree and involvement, academic support, etc.) similar to yours?

Last week was something of a whirlwind: I enrolled in the university and in preparation for my first course, Marketing 421, I immediately participated in a well-designed-though-intense, 3-day “new student orientation” workshop (that I plan to discuss in greater depth in my next post).

At the end of the workshop I received an email of helpful hints from my academic advisor entitled “How Do You Eat an Elephant? (Answer: One bite at a time).” It was good advice, actually.  This marketing course is only five weeks long–which means that the readings and participatory assignments are already progressing at what can only be described as a brisk pace…

So here it is, then: the first bite of my journey.


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9 thoughts on “University of Phoenix: Eating an Elephant One Bite At a Time

  1. Congrats, Andrea! I look forward to hearing your feedback. I am in a distance ed program through a brick-and-mortar, standard university, but it does present an interesting twist on the traditional classes that I took as an undergrad. I do believe that you have to be self-disciplined to succeed in a distance program; it isn’t for everyone, but it certainly opens doors for those who could not otherwise attend regular classes.

  2. I look forward to hearing your insight from an informed (and perhaps cynical?) student’s point of view.

    I taught at ***unnamed for-profit*** for a couple of years and basically got to the point where I just didn’t want my name associated with anything to do with the “college”.

    High drop out rates, unqualified students, super-high tuition for, quite honestly an education that most of the students would have a hard time getting an entry level position with. The worst, though were the over-qualified students – the students who for whatever reason didn’t attend college right after high school, are bright, intelligent, and talented, yet they somehow thought these glorified “3 year programs” are their only option.

    Right before I quit I had a closed door meeting with one of my students, told her she had no business at Westwood. She was too smart and too talented, and would get a better, cheaper, more well rounded education from a university that was 30 minutes from her house. It took her 5 years but she graduated (from UGA – whoops did I let that slip?) with a Bachelor’s in Horticulture and now manages a nursery. (And the entire cost came in about 20% lower than the for-profit.)

  3. These “for profit” universities tend to attract military members and their families for their (apparent) flexibility when transferring duty stations and persistent deployment schedules.

    I’d been looking into one of these type schools (not Univ. of Phoenix) about stitching together my current degree coursework and taking some additional classes to get a teaching degree. Unfortunately, we never seem to stay somewhere long enough to get the state-specific training I need. Oh well…

    Good luck to you Andrea!

  4. Am about to start a distance-learning MA in Creative Writing over here in the UK. It’s a respected institution but I have to say I’m still uncertain how it’ll pan out, studying at a college I’ll never see. Will be following your travails with interest.

    Oh, and you’re right about the Hunger Games, but wrong about 28 Days Later. Of course they weren’t technically zombies…

  5. I did my degree through BCOU which is now Thompson River University, online University. Our university system is quite different here. My courses were in partnership with the regular Universities in British Columbia. My teachers were the heads of their respective departments and UVic and UBC.

    Personally, I loved it. I always hated in-class learning because it was too slow for me. This allowed me to be a stay-at-home mum and finish a 4 month course in 6 weeks.

    I have no problem with self-motivation and excel in environments like this. Classroom, I get extremely bored and don’t bother trying because it is too darn easy.

    Good luck!

    The thing that worked for me when doing my degree was that I scheduled course work like a job or other appointment. Between certain hours, I’d do coursework. Outside of those times, I did other things. Those outside times were difficult on me as I could do my studies 24/7. I just love to learn and being able to learn at my own pace was a huge benefit.

  6. I used to be an enrollment counselor at UoP, and I loved it. (Contrary to reports, in my experience, they take very good care of their ECs. My father passed away one month after I started, and my team and my managers bent over backwards to accommodate me during those days — including driving me home after I got the news while at work!)

    I left in 2006 (I moved), and I was given the option of taking up to a year to return to a similar position at another campus with no loss of seniority or benefits. Ultimately, I decided not to return, focusing on my family and my writing, but I’m still in contact with my team, my trainers and my students.

    I’m really very pleased that you’re reporting on this. It seems all that we hear about is the negative. Positives never seem to make the news.

  7. I am very excited to read about your progress! I took a photography class at UCLA online & liked it. I also liked the fact that I didn’t have to be a mom in a room full of students!

  8. I too am looking forward to reading your reporting on this subject. I’m a stay-at-home mom who never got her degree for various reason, one of which being the boredom factor of sitting in lecture halls, etc. where the pace was too slow and the subject of no interest. Now, at 38, I am seriously considering returning to school to get my degree but with two small children and a household to run, that task seems a little daunting. I’ve investigated UofP and a few others but have not made the commitment as of yet. My only complaint with UofP is/was the “aggressive” nature of their recruiters… I made the mistake of requesting more information (via MAIL) and got quite a few phone calls (like, daily) for several weeks trying to get me to enroll. Less pressure on the part of the recruiters would definitely be a plus for them! 🙂

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