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HBCUs Developing Online Programs with the University of Phoenix to Survive in Changing Education Landscape

Faced with a changing education landscape, some Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are looking at online education, reported BuzzFeed.

Several HBCUs are partnering with the for-profit University of Phoenix, which seems to have developed a good track record for graduating Black students. According to BuzzFeed, by 2009 the University of Phoenix, an early adopter of online education, was the largest educator of Black bachelor degree students. Ashford University, another for-profit college which offers classes exclusively online, came in at number two.

BuzzFeed also reported almost a third of the students at the five largest for-profit colleges, who provide mainly online classes, are Black. In 2013, for-profit colleges had 275,000 black students out of a total of 877,000 enrollees. In that year, HBCUs enrolled 311,000 students.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports most of the country’s public HBCUs, said Black schools have been slow to adopt online education, but it’s the future.

“Generally speaking, HBCUs, especially public HBCUs, are behind the curve on this one,” said Taylor in a BuzzFeed interview.

In 2014, Taylor created a formal partnership between the University of Phoenix and HBCUs. The partnership allows Black schools to build their online programs on the University of Phoenix’s platform. Students at HBCUs can also enroll in online classes not offered by their schools. BuzzFeed reports online programs tend to suit students at HBCUs, because they are more flexible and cheaper. Many students also have to work and online programs allow them to take classes at home. Taylor said the University of Phoenix was the first to offer to partner with HBCUs, so he jumped at the opportunity.

“There’s a lot of negative publicity around Phoenix,” Taylor said. “People have asked, why not go with another platform? Frankly, Phoenix was knocking at my door, and nobody else was.”

Dr. Janet Guyden, vice president academic and student affairs at Grambling State University, told BuzzFeed the University of Phoenix had “literally written the book on educating Black students online.”

“Even their critics have to acknowledge that they’ve developed something in terms of raising the bar for African-Americans who accomplish postsecondary education,” said Guyden.

But while Taylor and Guyden are fans of the University of Phoenix, not everyone is as enamored. The for-profit college model is built on a shaky foundation. Critics have accused the schools of targeting low-income students, loading them up with debt and giving them worthless degrees that don’t translate into jobs. Earlier this year, Corinthian College, a for-profit college, filed for bankruptcy. Several students said the school had promised them employment, but now they were stuck with thousands of dollars of debt, no jobs and degrees from a defunct university.

The Washington Post reported a federal judge ordered Corinthian College to pay $550 million to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Corinthian was accused of steering students into predatory loans and inflating its graduation rate.

Business Insider reported Apollo Group, the University of Phoenix’s parent company, reported $18.5 million in losses this quarter. The University of Phoenix has also been banned from recruiting military personnel and is facing declining enrollment, according to Business Insider.

However, going online and partnering with the University of Phoenix might be the only choice if HBCUs want to stay alive. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Georgetown University professor Richard America estimated at least half of the nation’s 107 HBCUs were in trouble. The AJC also said HBCUs are facing declining enrollment and budget cuts.

But there are other problems with HBCUs going the online route. Critics say by going online they lose the college experience, which is a big selling point for Black students.

“The strength of an HBCU experience has been a sense of belonging,” said Crystal DeGregory, a historian who studies HBCUs, in a BuzzFeed interview. “There’s a lot of social capital that comes with a campus experience at an HBCU — it’s what our students come in without, and we give it to them.”

According to a Gallup study, HBCU grads are more likely to thrive in their lives than Black students who graduate from predominately white college.

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