The University of Arizona promised to fix the fraud epidemic at Ashford University. But it made one significant mistake.
Whichever name you know it by, the “military-friendly” online college in metro Phoenix is taking more hits than a punching bag in a boxing gym.
This time, the university has lost all its GI Bill funding, it acknowledged. That’s the law that provides financial benefits to studious veterans and active-duty members. State offices of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs decide which colleges and universities are eligible for federal assistance for students in uniform.
“Veterans rely on VA’s stamp of approval when choosing a school for their GI Bill benefits,” said Jennifer Esparza, the legal affairs director at Washington, D.C.-based bipartisan nonprofit Veterans Education Success.
Esparza also attended Ashford University from 2010 to 2013.
“The veterans we serve are understandably angry when they learn that a school that scammed them is a school VA knew was engaged in substantial misrepresentations but nevertheless continued to be approved,” she said.
Phoenix New Times already reported this week that military-affiliated students at the school were reeling after a court found last month they'd been subjected to fraud and deception at Ashford.
Ashford University was on the losing end of a $22 million lawsuit. The University of Arizona purchased the school for just $1 in 2020 and moved the operation from San Diego to the Valley.
That’s when it became the University of Arizona Global Campus.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon ruled last month that the school was culpable for “giving students false information about career outcomes, the pace of degree programs, and transfer credits, in order to entice them to enroll at Ashford.”
State officials in California have expressed concern that UAGC may not be able to cover the $22 million judgment.
Still, the University of Arizona promised to right the wrongs at Ashford and transform the institution into one of commendable quality and repute.
There’s just this latest issue.
“While recent news items may have created unwarranted confusion, UAGC never lost approval to offer VA education benefits, including … the GI Bill,” UAGC spokesperson Linda Robertson told New Times on March 25.
But now, the University of Arizona Global Campus, managed by Chandler-based for-profit educational services company Zovio, Inc., is facing the loss of one of its most valuable life sources.
On Wednesday, UAGC lost the privilege to offer educational benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, like the GI Bill.
“The university intends to secure approval to offer VA education benefits as soon as possible,” Robertson said on Friday.
She said UAGC believed it had “followed all necessary procedures to prevent a delay or gap in offering benefits,” but that was an incorrect assumption. It’s a pretty tough blow.
In 2020, UAGC received more than $31 million from the GI Bill, according to the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool.
The VA’s state approving agency in California cut off UAGC after the school voluntarily gave up its license to operate in the state.
“I suspect giving up willingly was to their advantage,” said Will Hubbard, the vice president for veterans and military policy at Veterans Education Success.
The school relocated to Chandler from San Diego in 2020 but continued to administer VA education benefits in California.
Naturally, coughing up a license to operate will have an effect on funding from the state, Hubbard asserts.
“Either they’re lying, or they’re terribly disorganized,” Hubbard said of the school's comments about VA education benefits in Wednesday's New Times story.
UAGC claims it was aware of the ramifications of giving up the license and tried to avoid this “worst-case scenario.”
On December 13, 2021, UAGC submitted its application to the Arizona State Approving Agency for approval to offer VA education benefits in its new home state.
School officials are frustrated with the slow processing time.
“After 109 days, the AZ SAA has yet to approve our application,” Robertson said on Friday.
The VA warns that the process is time-consuming, as the university offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs.
Hubbard said the process could take a year.
“It’s not a short process,” he said. “This points to the very clear lack of quality across the board.”
The Arizona State Approving Agency rejected UAGC’s first application for approval in November 2021, citing its lack of jurisdiction over the school because it had retained its California accreditation.
Robertson admitted the school “incorrectly believed” the processing time was just 60 days.
That does not bode well for the students.
There are 5,100 students currently enrolled at UAGC who are using VA benefits — nearly one in five in the entire student body.
“If you are a student at the school, you are left in a terrible position,” Hubbard said.
Some students are preparing to graduate in a few weeks.
But many of those students are already struggling financially after getting tricked into taking out massive loans or receiving false information about the cost of tuition, which is more than $28,000 per year on average, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The only option for those students is to pay out of pocket, drop out, put life on pause in the middle of the semester, or transfer to a different school.
And students aren’t eligible for GI Bill restoration unless they transfer to a different school, according to the VA website.
Robertson implored students to reach out to their assigned military academic advisor and wait out the period of no benefits, but veteran advocates aren’t as confident as she is that the application will even be approved.
“They may or may not get their license in Arizona,” Hubbard said. “Knowing the lack of quality that exists, it would not surprise me in the least if they were not approved.”
Robertson, however, indicated she expects a positive outcome eventually.
“It is an alarming trend and I’m not excited to see it,” Hubbard said. “Ultimately, the students are left in the lurch.”