Bridgepoint brief

A controversial for-profit school partners with Sacramento City College

Sacramento City College’s new academic partner has a multilayered past, one that includes acquisition of an older campus in Iowa and a federal investigation. In December, SCC and Bridgepoint Education’s Ashford University, a for-profit school, negotiated a transfer agreement for SCC students.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general is auditing Bridgepoint-Ashford, for its distribution of federal financial aid and compensation of enrollment advisers. Company records indicate that, as of 2008, the school received 87 percent of its revenue from federal student loans. More recently, Sen. Tom Harkin has held hearings about questionable conduct at some for-profit colleges.

In Senate testimony about Bridgepoint-Ashford, Harkin said that 63 percent of those seeking a bachelor’s degree drop out (the national dropout rate for four-year degrees is about 50 percent). He also criticized Bridgepoint, which owns both Ashford and the for-profit University of the Rockies, for employing 1,703 recruiters and only one career counselor for 67,000 students.

Harkin’s hearings are related to efforts by the Obama administration to tighten regulations on for-profit schools. In particular, the administration wants for-profit colleges to be held more accountable for high student-loan-default rates—which then have to be paid by taxpayers. They also want to curtail a common practice of compensating recruiters based on number of students enrolled.

The for-profit education industry has fought these changes. According to the Bloomberg news, the industry has doubled federal lobbying efforts and hired six former members of Congress to advance its cause. Several for-profit schools and a trade association spent $3.8 million for lobbying in the first nine months of 2010, Bloomberg reported.

Bridgepoint-Ashford spent $260,000 on federal lobbying in 2010. The school also created a Web page called Setting the Record Straight to make its case to the public in the face of media criticism. Among the 14 points listed, the school says for-profits save taxpayers’ money by not relying on government subsidies.

At the same time, for-profits provide an option when California’s public colleges have been hard hit by budget cuts and rising fees.

“[Bridgepoint-]Ashford was less expensive than other online programs I looked into,” Melodi Randolph, an SCC employee who received her undergraduate degree from Bridgepoint-Ashford, told SN&R. “[And] they accepted all 92 units I wanted to transfer in, even though they were from 20 years ago and some were Bible classes.”

According to SCC, such ease of transferring credits is part of what made Bridgepoint-Ashford an appealing partner. “We want to make sure that our students have as many transfer options as possible,” said Amanda Davis, an SCC spokeswoman.

Davis was more muted about the federal investigation. “We plan to undertake a review of all of our articulation agreements,” she explained. “At the same time, we want to ensure that [our] agreements are made with institutions that can truly help students reach their educational goals.”

As part of SCC’s arrangement with Bridgepoint-Ashford, the schools jointly decide what classes, including prerequisites, will be accepted as transfer credit. The transfer arrangement is one-way, Davis explained, and Bridgepoint-Ashford students cannot transfer credits to SCC.

Other facts about Bridgepoint-Ashford are less clear. In official material, Bridgepoint-Ashford says it was founded in 1918—but in reality, it was founded in 1999.

As part of its murky past, Bridgepoint acquired the older, non-profit Franciscan University of the Prairies in 2005. That school in Clinton, Iowa, was formerly known as Mount St. Clare College, which was founded in 1918. After purchasing Francisan, Bridgepoint changed the name again, to Ashford, and expanded the previous school’s small online degree programs. Bridgepoint-Ashford still maintains the original Iowa campus, as well as the online degree programs.