Q&A with head of U. of Phoenix

The University of Phoenix is usually portrayed as the devil by most traditional higher education providers, but the new president seems like a pretty normal guy. With 300,000 and 250,000 graduates, Phoenix is largest accredited private university in the country.

I was surprised at how inexpensive the typical undergraduate degree was; I would have guessed that it was more in line with Syracuse–also a private, accredited university–with tuition and fees of $29,965 annually.

‘Students come to us at different parts in their career, plus our tuition varies by geographical region. But if you’re looking for a homogenized number, probably between $30,000 and $40,000.

With graduation rates of around 60%, Phoenix compares with many large open-enrollment state universities. Students leave for the reasons we would expect:

Pepicello: The two largest reasons they give us are, No. 1, financial and No. 2, life gets in the way. For adult students, obviously that makes sense.

Pepicello is quite candid about why the Unviversity of Phoenix was founded.

The mission of, say, Harvard is to serve a certain sector of the population and their mission is not to grow. And that’s true of higher education in general. The reason the University of Phoenix exists at all is that is that all of those various (universities) and their missions did not provide access to a large number of students who are capable and wanted access to higher education. And that’s our mission.

In general, I’m not a big believer in the “education should be more like business” mythology; in fact, I think that’s the worst thing institutions could be doing. However, I do think that those of us in traditional professional schools should pay attention to some of these new competitors and not just write them off as being part of some evil empire. There are some lessons to be learned there.