University of Phoenix Orientation: Getting the Hang of Things

GeekMom

University of Phoenix is the United States’ largest private university. It has over 400,000 students split between a robust online learning program and 400 brick and mortar campuses and learning centers. Through GeekMom, I have been offered the opportunity to take an online class (of my choosing) with UOPX and write about my experience. This post is part of that ongoing series.

Before I could begin taking classes with University of Phoenix, I had to enroll as a student.  During the enrollment process, the school assigns all new, prospective students a “graduation team” that includes:

  • An enrollment adviser that speaks with prospective students about the commitments of time and money that are required to earn a University of Phoenix degree and then subsequently walks the student through UOPX’s online application process. (This initial process can take a couple of hours and often requires multiple phone calls–however, it also lays a foundation for communication between the student and school, moving forward.)
  • A financial adviser that also talks with the student about the financial commitment they are making and then helps the student apply for financial aid.
  • An academic adviser that checks in by phone and email periodically throughout each class to offer an empathetic ear and also ensures that the student is fulfilling participation requirements and isn’t falling behind in class.

Implemented by UOPX in 2010 as a response to criticisms leveled against the school that its emphasis was on student recruitment rather than student retention and graduation, this “graduation team” is a relatively new idea. In addition, students with fewer than 24 credit hours are now required to complete a three-week “Student Orientation” (at no charge to the student) before they take on any debt or begin classes with the school. According to UOPX, upon completing this three-week workshop, 20% of prospective students opt out of their intended program of study–a fact that the school promotes as proof of its increased accountability to students and its ongoing efforts to reduce student loan default rates through tightened admission standards.

These policy improvements came at an initial cost: Stock prices for Apollo (the corporation that owns University of Phoenix) fell from a high of $90 per share in 2009 to a low of $36 per share earlier this year as a result of the drop in enrollment. However, according to MSNBC.com, Apollo’s most recent quarterly earnings exceeded Wall Street estimates by 9%, causing the stocks to recently surge up to $47 per share:

Phoenix-based Apollo is seeing enrollment fall and expects the trend to continue through 2012, but students already enrolled are staying, improving retention rates. The company also is bringing in more money per student as revenue shifts more toward higher-degree programs.

That “shift to higher-degree programs” is key since students in UOPX’s Axia associate’s degree program suffer from the highest rate of student loan default. According to a February Chronicle of Higher Education article on the subject:

While Phoenix had long made its name using its innovative scheduling and online technology to serve working adults, Axia catered to younger, less academically prepared students. The company set tuition for the two-year-degree program low enough that students could use federal loans–and if they were financially needy enough, Pell Grants–to cover most of their costs. Phoenix now gets nearly 90 percent of its revenue from those federal sources, the maximum allowed by law. Its rate of student-loan defaults has also risen markedly, largely among Axia students, which under the tougher laws enacted in 2008, put it closer to the point where it could lose access to federal student aid.

As a “scholarship student” already in possession of an undergraduate degree, I am not the targeted beneficiary of these programmatic improvements. I wound up appreciating the “graduation team” concept for a different reason: when I’ve been confused or had a question–for instance: when UOPX’s server went down for 36 hours during my second week of class–I have names and phone numbers and emails that I can use to talk to people that I “know.” In a learning environment that can by its nature sometimes feel isolated, I feel as if there are people looking out for me. I like that.

With enrollment under my belt, I was ready to start class. Before I could begin, however, I had to learn how to get around the virtual campus. To that end, I took a 3-day online “New Student Orientation” workshop (different from the 3-week workshop mentioned above) where I learned about:

  • The Online Learning System (OLS) – This is the interface students use to access materials, engage with classmates in forum-style threaded discussions, and access program information (for example: schedule, code of conduct, student workshops, and the prior learning assessment).
  • The Center for Writing Excellence – Through this online writing lab, students can access the WritePoint automated paper-review system (which will check for spelling, grammar, and tone), run their papers through a “plagiarism checker” to ensure that all work has been appropriately cited, or submit their papers to a reviewer for feedback on organization, format, tone, and usage).
  • The Online LibraryThe University of Phoenix spends over ten million dollars a year keeping its library up-to-date, relevant, and largely ADA compliant (for students with visual or hearing impairments). It offers 24/7 access to materials, subscribes to over 200 distinct online information services, and staffs librarians who will answer your email queries within 12 hours–even on weekends.

The orientation was thorough and, I thought, well done. Each instruction module was coupled with brief, meaningful assignments that forced me to actually go back and re-read what I’d only scanned the first time through. By the time I’d finished the three-day workshop, I was comfortable with posting and reading in the online forum and knew how to access the library, the writing center, and my records.

Next step: the Marketing 421 classroom, a “typical” school week.

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4 thoughts on “University of Phoenix Orientation: Getting the Hang of Things

  1. I too have a BA, but am planning on going back to school. After reading this…I’m going to go register today and stop putting it off!

  2. On thing that they might not have mentioned right off is that students maintain their access to that library, even after they graduate.

    And we were doing graduation teams on the physical campus back in 2005-2006. But that orientation is new. I like it — wish they’d offered it when I was still working there!

    1. Hi, Elizabeth,

      I may have oversimplified what I read about the change in ‘graduation teams.’ They may have been in existence before 2010 for the online learners as well, but if they were, their mandate was dramatically altered in 2010 to emphasize retention and graduation and dialog. This is what the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION article I quoted above says:

      “In September the university put in place a new compensation system for its enrollment and financial-aid counselors, eliminating any use of enrollment and retention goals in determining salaries. Requirements that enrollment advisers make 65 to 85 calls a day and put in four hours of “talk time” per shift have been replaced with customer-service training based on “emotional intelligence.” Apollo executives decline to share full details on the new techniques but say the change is meant to encourage behaviors that will allow the advisers to make personal connections with prospects, relying on techniques like asking open-ended questions and maintaining a dialogue.

      Under the old system, average enrollment advisers would typically earn raises of 5 to 6 percent twice a year, with enrollment and retention factors playing a key role. For what it says are competitive reasons, Phoenix does not provide information on enrollment-advisers’ salaries, except to say they start in the “low to mid-five-figure range.”

      Raises and promotions for the advisers now will be determined by their mastery of the new behaviors, like showing compassion, getting students excited about getting an education, and “product knowledge.” Phoenix has also begun to require all enrollment counselors to have at least a bachelor’s degree.”

      I guess my point was: even if those job titles existed prior to 2010, their goals and strategies were very different.

      Can I ask? What did you do for UOPX? Do you have a degree from UOPX? How are you using it?

      PS: I *LOVE* the library. That level of access to information is just amazing to me! Accessing that in perpetuity is quite a perk!

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