University of Phoenix Orientation: Getting the Hang of Things

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.

The GeekMom blog is captained by Jenny Bristol and Corrina Lawson, and supported by a brilliant team of writers. Since launching in 2010, we’ve created a robust community of writers, readers, and media geeks, dedicated to the vision of creating a smart, savvy, social online experience for geek parents everywhere.