Thinking About A University of Phoenix Accounting Degree? Bring On The Controversy

A University of Phoenix Accounting degree could give you a headache given just how much controversy is now surrounding the organization. 

And whilst their School of Business is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission not all the accounting courses are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.  You’ll need to check if your employer will re-imburse your course costs given this lack of accreditation.

The University of Phoenix is a for-profit university specializing in online learning and catering specifically to working adults and non-traditional students. Despite its extensive advertising efforts, The University of Phoenix is increasingly characterized by controversy.

Lawsuits, investigations and complaints are only some of the challenges faced by University of Phoenix.  Poor student reviews and results are difficult to ignore.  

The University of Phoenix Accounting Degree Programs

The University of Phoenix offers a larger than usual range of accounting courses:

  • Bachelor of Science in Accountancy
  • Master of Science in Accountancy (Masters in Accounting)
  • MBA with a concentration in Accounting
  • Associate of Arts with a concentration in Accounting Foundations
  • Associate of Arts with an Accounting concentration
  • Graduate Accounting Certificate program (touted as a CPA review course)

At first glance, the courses appear to be consistent with other degree programs.

Students, however, report the accelerated course structure does not give them enough time to master the material presented.  Online courses are self-study with little or no instruction provided by faculty.  The faculty taught classroom courses aren’t much better.  Students report faculty has little practical experience in accounting.

Statistics support the student reviews.  In 2011, University of Phoenix graduates had a 30.4% pass rate on the CPA exam – one of the worst pass rates among business schools in the country.  The University of Phoenix has an overall graduation rate of 16% - well below the 55% National average. It's not exactly what you'd call a resounding stamp of approval for the University of Phoenix Accounting Degree programs.

USA Today listed The University of Phoenix as a red flag school in its July 2, 2013 article College Default Rates Higher than Grad Rates.  The article cited an average graduation rate (2009-2010) of 18% compared with a default rate of 26.4% for the same time period.

Ethics and Integrity in Question

The University of Phoenix has never admitted wrongdoing, but has paid millions in fines and settlements resulting from allegations of misconduct in its financial aid and recruiting practices.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the university paid $67.5 million in fines and $11 million in court costs to settle one such suit.  

The University made changes to its admission and financial aid process – adding mandatory financial counseling for incoming students after allegations of misleading enrollment practices and fraud on some campuses.  Too little, too late?  

Accreditation Issues – Narrowly Avoiding Probation

In February, 2013 a peer review group of the Higher Learning Commission issued a report recommending probation for The University of Phoenix through the fall of 2014.  The Higher Learning Commission has issued accreditation for the University since 1978.

The accreditation was eventually approved, but is tied to a demonstrated improvement at the University over the next two years.  Three areas were a concern to the commission, and should be a concern to you as well.

First, the University of Phoenix is tied very closely to its parent company – Apollo, Inc.  The Commission worries that decisions at the University are not made in a student’s best interests but rather from a desire to profit financially.  In the next two years the University must show that its academic decision making is separate from concerns about profit.

Second, the University must improve student assessments.  Apparently there was not enough attention paid to student learning outcomes.  Assessments must now be tied to course learning goals.

Third, the Commission is concerned about the quality of faculty and doctoral students at the University.  The University of Phoenix must show increased proficiency and scholarship among its faculty in order to stay accredited.

Student Reviews – Confirmation of the Commission’s Findings

Student reviews are normally just that – opinions based on a student’s personal experience.  It doesn’t take long to find both positive and negative reviews for just about any university.  In this case, though, the reviews seem to fit the facts.

What do students have to say about The University of Phoenix accounting degree programs?  There wasn't anything specific. But in general, nearly every review we found had something negative to say about financial aid.  The best reviews said advisors simply didn’t know answers to simple questions.  The worst reviews said financial aid advisors allegedly lied and misrepresented available aid and student account information.

Students generally felt professors were pleasant and caring – when available.  However, many commented on how difficult it was to talk to a professor, especially as a part of online courses.  

What about academics?  Graduates of the accounting programs report they found it difficult to learn the material in such a fast paced environment.  After graduation, they often found they weren’t prepared to enter the accounting field. 

Still Interested in a University of Phoenix Accounting Degree? 

As an aspiring accountant you really need to smarter than the average person in assessing the pros and cons of a University of Phoenix accounting degree.  At this point it looks like there's too little being offered academically to make it worth the risk but that's a judgement you'll have to make for yourself.  Will they resolve their issues in the next few years?  We hope so.