Ashford U. Cuts Recruiting Staff and Focuses More on Student Support

September 24, 2012

Ashford University, a for-profit college that enrolls about 90,000 students online, with another 1,000 at its Iowa campus, has announced that it is slashing its admissions staff and putting more employees to work in areas meant to ensure students' academic success.

In a news release on Monday, the company that owns Ashford, Bridgepoint Education Inc., said the institution was cutting about 450 admissions staff, out of more than 2,000, and reassigning 400 employees to work in student support and a new "department of student inquiry," which "will work with prospective students to ensure they are sufficiently prepared for the demands of a university education."

The company's statement said the changes were "an effort to address our nation's focus on student outcomes and success," and were "consistent with" the company's culture of continuous improvement.

Shari Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Bridgepoint, said the new student-inquiry staff would "work to determine a prospective student's readiness before they speak to our admissions-department personnel."

The new approach comes as Ashford is under scrutiny from two regional accrediting organizations that have raised concerns about the college's academic structure. Some of the announced changes relate directly to issues that accreditors have raised.

In July the Western Association of Schools and Colleges rejected Ashford's bid to be accredited by that organization, which approves colleges on the West Coast and in Hawaii. Among the problems the association found were too little spending on instruction, an inadequate number of full-time faculty and student-support staff members, a high turnover of students, and inconsistent quality and rigor in the curriculum.

The accreditor's report also voiced concerns about Ashford's independence from Bridgepoint and its financial viability.

Just a few days after the Western Association denied Ashford's application, the college's current accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, notified Bridgepoint that Ashford was under "special monitoring" status and would have to report on ways it intended to improve its academic operations.

Ashford has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since Bridgepoint acquired the campus, in 2005, through the purchase of the Franciscan University of the Prairies, a small Roman Catholic institution in eastern Iowa. But most of Ashford's operations take place at the company's headquarters, in San Diego, and most of its students study online.

Ashford applied to the Western Association because its location has potentially put it out of compliance with the Higher Learning Commission's "substantial presence" requirement, which says that a majority of a college's administrative and business operations must be located within the agency's 19-state region, along with at least one campus.

In addition to the July report on complying with the Higher Learning Commission's standards, Ashford faces a December deadline to come into compliance with the "substantial presence" requirement.

When asked if the reorganization was a response to accreditors, Ms. Rodriguez responded in an e-mail that the "reorganization was done with the intent of providing our current and future students with the best possible academic experience."