Vol. 3, Issue 11, April 12, 2005
Online University Sued for "Spectacularly Useless Degrees"
The nation's largest private university system has come under fire for a new batch of course offerings which are "insufficiently marketable," according to a class-action lawsuit.
The University of Phoenix is being accused of offering degrees in areas of specialization which are actively pointless and, in some cases, possibly illegal, according to the lawsuit which was filed in California Superior Court last week.
"I've spoken to a lot of alumni who are less than happy with their return on investment through taking courses at the University of Phoenix," said Charles March, the plaintiff who initiated the suit. "But I feel that my degree is actually less than worthless. Although I was told that tarantula dentistry was a "hot field," I haven't had a single job offer since I graduated."
March, who spent three years completing an associate's degree in tarantula dentistry through a University of Phoenix distance learning program, was surprised and chagrined to learn that there are currently no practicing tarantula dentists in the United States.
"They told me I could be earning six figures a year in the brochure!" said March, who paid over $50,000 in fees and equipment. "And I had to buy the equipment too! What am I going to do with a dentist's chair designed to hold a big spider?"
The University of Phoenix is a for-profit university founded in 1976 that specializes in adult education. It has campuses throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Netherlands and Puerto Rico; nearly 100,000 students are enrolled in its online programs as well. Many have claimed over the years that the school's standards are meaningless despite being accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.The university has dismissed March's claims as misguided.
"Well, what our brochure actually says, if you read the fine print, is that you could be earning six figures or more if tarantula dentistry were to become an accepted high-paying practice in the United States," said Errol Phillips, vice chancellor of complaints at the University of Phoenix. "We try and stay cutting-edge, and sometimes that means our course offerings anticipate market demand before it actually manifests. Our degrees are recognized nationwide, might I add."
"Yes, they're recognized - people start laughing right away when they see it on your resume," countered March. "And the tarantula dentistry program is not the only one to suffer!"
Other programs which are being questioned in the lawsuit are the Hat Emancipation program, the Stapler Alignment Technician program, and the Vending Machine Feng-Shui Certification program.
"The trouble is that college degrees are seen as a magic ticket to financial success," said Ernest Pembroke, of the Pepperdine Consulting Group. "There is a widespread demand for easier access to higher education degrees, especially for those who may not succeed in a traditional institution. The University of Phoenix is just meeting the demand for the market. Besides, who can really say whether a degree in tarantula dentistry is any more useless than a traditional degree in English literature?"
The University of Phoenix is apparently not concerned about the effect of the lawsuit on its enrollment, saying it can offset any negative publicity with bonus incentives.
"This fall, we're having a two-for-one special; earn an MBA and a degree in cognitive plant therapy at the same time!" said Phillips. "Act now, before it's too late!"