A student advocate group for veterans is insisting that the University of Phoenix drop sponsorship of its namesake stadium in Glendale and spend the millions of dollars on educating students.
The outcry comes at a time when the institution is under substantial scrutiny regarding allegations of predatory recruitment tactics, staggering tuition rates, and poor educational standards that leave students with purportedly overpriced degrees and few job prospects.
“They should be in the business of educating students. They should not be in the business of branding stadiums,” said Matthew Boulay, executive director of the Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund, which offers grants to student vets who have been misled by for-profit colleges. “And they should immediately get out of the business of branding stadiums.”
"Students, Not Stadiums," a petition launched on Change.org by the VSLF Fund, already has garnered more than 4,000 signatures.
“The University of Phoenix, a for-profit business, is spending $154.4 million for the
naming rights to [the stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play] through 2026,” the petition reads. “Tell the University of Phoenix to sell back the naming rights and use that money for students not stadiums!”
Regardless of how successful the petition becomes, the U of P cannot legally be forced to sell back naming rights to the stadium, which resulted from a private business deal. But Boulay contends that the petition will raise awareness and put public pressure on the institution to at least not renew the sponsorship.
In 2006, when the U of P inked the 20-year multimillion-dollar corporate-sponsorship deal with the Cardinals for naming rights — even the school’s officials considered it a peculiar partnership.
Not only was the U of P Stadium actually located in Glendale, but the school has no intercollegiate athletics program, admitted Brian Mueller, then president of the college's parent company, The Apollo Group.
“This is the first time a National Football League venue has been named after an educational institution,” Mueller said in 2006. “And the irony of that deal is not lost on us.”
Nine years — and two Arizona-based Super Bowls later — several student groups administering to veterans have unleashed a barrage of criticism on the U of P for wasting what is essentially taxpayer money.
A sizable chunk of students enrolled at the University of Phoenix are veterans who pay for college with their government tuition benefits. In 2014, U of P's parent company received more taxpayer dollars than any other educational institution — more than 92 percent of its total revenue. About $272 million of that money was Post-9/11 GI Bill funds.
“It’s way out of line. Many of us think federal education dollars should not be spent for marketing purposes. Federal education dollars should be spent on education, in the classroom,” Boulay said. “The University of Phoenix should not spend any federal education dollars on marketing — including, of course, branding a stadium.”
Headquartered in Phoe
nix, the U of P boasts the largest enrollment of any private college in the country, according National Center for Education Statistics. More than 227,000 students take classes via the Internet or at one of the 112 “learning centers.”
And while the college doesn’t have a traditional campus, as a for-profit institution, it does have a larger marketing budget than most traditional colleges, upward of $1 billion in 2011.
In fact, the U of P spends three times as much on marketing as it does on student instruction, according to a 2012 investigation on the for-profit colleges by U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — the HELP Committee — began an investigation of for-profit colleges in 2010. Its findings, released in 2012, were especially critical of the U of P.
The Senate report revealed that the school spent an average of $2,225 per student on marketing, while devoting $892 for instruction—less than a quarter of what a community college spends on instruction per student.
Meanwhile, the student dropout rate at the U of P is more than 66 percent, according to the report. And at eight of U of P campuses, there are higher student loan default rates — consistently 26.4 percent — than graduation rates.
"It’s just an example of how for-profit intuitions spend the money they get. The [U of P] is spending huge amounts on recruiting and advertising, and the stadium falls into the same category,” says Walter Ochinko, policy director of Veterans Education Success. “It’s like what does this have to do with education? Should the priority of these institutions to provide a quality education to students?”
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The recent flood of negative publicity has affected the for-profit institution, with enrollment plummeting by half in the last five years. In the past year alone, the U of P has fired 900 employees and closed 100 campuses.
New Times reached out to the U of P for comment for this article, but no spokesman for the school responded.
Meanwhile, current students are vocalizing their concerns about the U of P's future.
“I'm a student, and struggling every month to pay toward my courses at the U of P,” Vanessa Madrigal commented on the stadium petition. “The idea that the funds are going towards advertisement and not school expenses — it’s heartbreaking.”