Online U and the Non-Traditional Student

Kay Steiger sounds off the warning bells with regard to online college:

Via the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, a new study confirms some earlier findings about the efficacy of online learning in two-year colleges. The study, conduced by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, looked at more than 50,000 students in Washington state’s community or technical college system. What they found was that students who load up on online classes, especially early in their higher education careers, are less likely to finish their degrees. This is worrisome, especially because, as CCRC notes in its report, the number of students taking online courses is only increasing.

Other commentary has pointed out that online learning requires a basic degree of computer know-how that a lot of people don’t have and that online learning requires a level of discipline that traditional learning doesn’t. These are both very valid points and two of the three main reasons why online education will never become a norm (even as computer know-how increases). But there is something else at work, which Steiger points out: online students are not the same as physical students in terms of student profiles.

The Atlantic has been raising the banner of the non-traditional student. This is part of the “problem,” if you view it as such. Non-traditional students returning to school may be a good thing, but they’re often going to be the most marginal students. Not because they’re lazy or dumb, but because they have a lot of other things going on. That’s precisely what attracts them to the flexibility of online learning in the first place. This is also one of the reasons that for-profit universities have such abysmal graduation rates. They cater to precisely these students.

When we talk about increasing college enrollment, this is one of the things that we have to be looking at. We’d partially be bringing into the fold a lot of people who are not, at present, in a great position to do well in school. It may be worth bringing them into the fold anyway! But we have to accept that one of the costs of this is going to be higher drop-out rates and at least some students potentially hurt along the way with debt but no degree. Unless we’re going to start paying people to go to college, we have to factor this into the equation.

This is something that brick-and-mortar universities themselves often look at. One university near where I live is trying like hell to make the transition away from being a commuter school that provides the opportunity for a great education to people without a lot of options in favor of being a more traditional university. Why? Because a lot of these students are failing out. This hurts the university’s profile by making it look like a school that is failing. But by changing the student body to a more traditional one, the hope is that the numbers will improve and the university will look better. The only sacrifice required is shuffling off the “wrong” people to schools that are less good.

And on a personal level, I grit my teeth when I hear people talking about how they want their kids to “work their way through college.” Presumably so that they won’t take it for granted. There may be something to this, though in my experience working while going to college is more often going to be a recipe for failure. A working student serves two masters. My ex-girlfriend, an honors student in high school, failed miserably in college due in no small part to the fact that she was working at a pet store the whole time. Could she have done both if she were more disciplined? Sure. But that’s the kind of disciplined student you don’t have to worry about in the first place. Meanwhile, my own GPA fell considerably when I started working while attending. It’s a serious distraction. Some people have no choice. But putting kids in that situation for the sake of making a point or thinking it will lead to better outcomes is mistaken.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. University of Phoenix now boasts some 600,000 alumni, most of whom worked their way through school to some degree or another. I am one of those. I tried the traditional route, but having a family and going to class four days a week to carry 12 credits at a time while maintaining a full-time job just didn’t work. UOPx offered me the opportunity to work full-time and attend school at my convenience through Online learning, and though it took me 5 1/2 years to complete two degrees, it was not something I could have done at a traditional brick and mortar. Don’t get me wrong, I have three kids attending traditional B&M schools, and for them it is perfect. It was not for me, nor for my 600,000 fellow alumni.

  2. I have often heard viewpoints just like Kelly’s. She reported that she was only able to get her 2 degrees through the more flexible format offered by Phoenix. My questions, though, is did she have to learn course content and pass exams that are equal to, or better than, the standards of reputable, traditional, bricks and mortar, not-for-profit universities?

    With all due apologies to Kelly, who might be one of the earnest Phoenix grads, I’m very suspicious of the for-profits because their primary mission must be, of necessity, turning a profit. The primary focus of the for-profit businesses/universities cannot be the education of their students. In addition, for some of the students, their primary mission is also not to gain an education. For some, it’s just to get a degree with as little muss-and-fuss as possible. I fear that there are lots of the 600,000 Phoenix alums that are uneducated degree holders.

  3. Thank you for the reply. First we need to correct another of your stereotypes that all Kellys are female. I am not.

    You asked the question did I “have to learn course content and pass exams that are equal to, or better than, the standards of reputable, traditional, bricks and mortar, not-for-profit universities?” Who sets the standards for the reputable, traditional, brick and mortar not-for-profit universities? Of course the answer to that is the accrediting body to which that school belongs. UOPx is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. This accrediting body also accredits such universities as Perdue, Notre Dame, Arizona State University, The Air Force Academy, Iowa State, KCU…shall I go on?

    The rigor that must be maintained by UOPx is comparable to any of these universities by edict of the accrediting agency. And so you understand, the group that makes its site visits to UOPx is comprised of the faculty and staff of the other universities in the HLC, and if they have found the rigor to be acceptable, why are you having such a problem with it?

    • Kelly,

      My perception of the University of Phoenix was actually somewhat positive until recently. What changed my mind was talking to a couple of people who taught classes there. Both (neither of whom knew one another) said very similar things about the quality of the average student and the pressure to pass kids through.

      I suspect that UoP is one of those schools that you get out of it precisely what you put into it. You seem like an intelligent and well-spoken individual and I strongly doubt that you fit the profile that was described to me as “most students.”

      I fear that many of the 600,000, though, do fit the profile and are passed through anyway. This may be the case at many B&M schools, but I don’t know that it’s as hard to genuinely flunk out at those. It is unfortunate that they should reflect badly on you or the school that (presumably) gave you a good education.

      • This is my perception and experience also. The quality of instruction and of fellow students (don’t make the mistake of underestimating the enormous difference peer groups make in higher education…) at University of Phoenix and other for-profit sources I’ve seen don’t stack up well with my experiences as a UCLA undergrad.

        I don’t think this is strictly a reflection of online vs. B&M, and still have great hope for online education. I also question the broader applicability of a study that was limited to two-year colleges. Community colleges and technical schools serve a very different set of students and needs than four-year universities.

    • Kelly,

      Thanks for the info on accreditation. I was about to write a comment about how U of P wasn’t accredited. Thanks for saving me the embarrassment of being wrong.

  4. @MFarmer- Not sure I follow you statement. Just because a school makes money does not mean that school cannot perform with rigor.

    @Will- Honestly, I had faculty members who were abysmal and did very little to actually instruct. On the other hand, I had faculty members who were far more stringent in their grading than any of my ground campus (BYU) faculty members. The quality of the faculty member cannot be helped by the student anymore than the quality of the student can be helped by the faculty and staff. If a student does not want to apply himself of herself to the course material, whether at ground or Online, s/he is going to fail. The one shortcoming I will proffer is open enrollment. Because anyone can enroll at online universities, typically, you will have students who enroll strictly for the financial aid benefits. And when they have received their excess funds, they drop out. I can attest to this because of my five+ years in Student Financial Services for a private for-profit. These students do not apply themselves anymore than to get through enough classes to receive the excess funds, and so they show on the roster as D students. Non-profits and publics have a more stringent entrance requirement, and so they weed out these students.

    I am a firm believer in the quality of online learning. In the interest of full disclosure, I also happen to own a private, for-profit school. We are non-degree granting, do not accept federal funds, but have an academic rigor that is top notch. Our students complete an accelerated course (five weeks) covering the same textbooks of other typical colleges, write a total of five essays of 1,500 words covering 2-3 chapters each week, and all essays must conform to APA standards; sub-par essays are returned for improvement.

    And consider this- Find one Ivy League school that is not now offering an online course, and I will be very surprised. Finally, I understand that many are against the capitalist way and prefer that everything be free or non-profit. This is unfortunate. The profit motive is behind every advance of modern society, including the very computer on which you write.

  5. The spouse’s program once did a foray into the world of on-line teaching that she took a leadership role in.

    As I recall, her personal experience was not entirely positive. I don’t know how much of that had to do with student experience; I think she hated the lack of not-written communication with her students.

  6. Sorry about the “Kelly” stereotype. But, having taught in universities for many years, and being intimately familiar with every combination of profit/not-for-profit and public/private, I don’t think my position is based on stereotypes. It’s based on first-hand experience with what has happened as “students” have become “customers.” The implications of the huge gap in the default rate on federal student loans between profits and not-for-profits are very telling. Most of the reasons for the gap, do not speak well for the for-profits.

    • Stephen,

      The implications of the huge gap in the default rate on federal student loans between profits and not-for-profits are very telling. Most of the reasons for the gap, do not speak well for the for-profits.

      I actually agree with Kelly on this that this is not entirely on the university except insofar as they are non-selective institutions. In addition to the fraud scam that he refers to (I don’t know how prevalent that is or is not), a lot of it comes down to the stuff the student profile they attract. A student profile that exists independent of the university.

      If we want to cut down on loan default rates, drop out rates, and so on, we would need to look at students as much as institutions.

  7. Will, dude, you need front-page posting privileges. This is front page material. Let me throw you a link there and let’s hope for more feedback.

  8. At a slightly higher level, I’ve noticed over the last 20 years the proliferation of ‘extension centers’ and other satellite/ pseudo-satellite campuses of traditional ‘name brand’ not-for-profit universities to capture market share in the graduate education game. They’re brick and mortar (with maybe a few on line features thrown in) but nonetheless are assiduously courting the working full time (though often in a profession) student.

    • I’ve noticed that as well, but I’ve noticed it more for graduate school, which is something of a different bird than undergrad. A whole lot more of grad students are non-traditional. You see this (difference in non-traditional student profile) especially in business courses, which is what a lot of the extension centers focus in.

      • *cough* to capture market share in the graduate education game 😉

  9. I am certain that as long as default rates are used as the measure of whether or not profit schools are effective I will not convince anyone of the value of an education through a profit university. The comparison cannot really be made between Online and B&M because UOPx and other profit schools operate B&M campuses in addition to Online, as do most B&M schools operate Online courses and programs.

    The greatest factor, from my direct involvement with a for profit, is the student. At one campus I am aware that fully 27% of students dropped out of school as soon as their financial aid was awarded, disbursed, and the student received his or her excess funds. These students are not going to complete school, it was not their intention. They are also not going to pay back their student loans. Unfortunately, there is no tried and true method of eliminating these students from the student pool; if a student indicates s/he wants to go to school, do the work, and graduate, they will be enrolled in an open enrollment system.

    I am also aware that many for profits have started requiring orientation courses that are weeding out those who are in it for the money rather than the education. If someone has to take a three week course (free) before being accepted for enrollment, s/he may think twice about the effort that will have to be put forth first and not endeavor toward the scam they are ultimately seeking to conduct.

    Having said all this, default rates are a poor indicator, in my humble opinion, of the quality of education, and point more to the quality of character of the student.

    • I agree. A lot of students game the system.

      I also think that if a student tries school (either brick and mortar, or online, or a mixture of the two) for a semester or two, and then decides that university is not for them and drops out (a different thing from what you describe), then the university has done its job, so to speak, because the student is no longer spending money or incurring debt for something he or she will not benefit from.

  10. @Will,

    I really liked the post though my single point of contention would be your position on working while in school. I did it and while it wasn’t easy, it was manageable. If we think of college as the time when we transition from childhood to adulthood then the ability to balance work and life is an important skill to master. As an adult I balance a career, family and my personal interests. I learned how to do that in college. I also learned how to stick to a deadline because I had less free time than my classmates.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say everyone SHOULD work while in collge but I certainly see little or no harm either.

  11. “I grit my teeth when I hear people talking about how they want their kids to “work their way through college.” Presumably so that they won’t take it for granted.”

    I started at a local subway for one semester to help pay utilities/rent where I was staying. I was managing fine, but did start skipping classes that occured at inconvenient times and didn’t immerse myself in the material as much.

    Working a dead-end job just to make some extra money, and thus take out a few less loans, isn’t worth it. A paid internship related to one’s area of study? Definitely. Or working part time at campus facilities, e.g. a lot of places pay students to referee intramurals, sit at counters signing people in at the gym, or field questions at student aid offices. For isntance, I worked one semester at the library putting books away. The hours were flexible and minimal, giving me just enough money to take care of some living expences while still affording me time to study, etc. on slow work nights.

  12. Again, I react to Kelly’s most recent comment that default rates are related to “the quality of character of the student”. If the for-profits like Phoenix and Kaplan advertise that you can get a degree faster and easier, even though you are also working full-time, doesn’t this say something about the character of some of the students? One of the building blocks of character, I believe, is the willingness to make sacrifices in order to honestly accomplish one’s important goals in life. Or in the vernacular, “No pain, no gain.” If a person thinks they can accomplish the same goal the easy way, using low-interest loans that are often defaulted, this is a question of character, or at the very least, common sense.

    On a related matter, most B&M universities offer a wide array of STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) courses. Most On-line schools offer little or none of these courses. (How you gonna do chem lab or dissect a frog on-line?) These are the foundational courses for such professions as medical doctor, dentist, veterinarian, engineer, scientist, computer scientist, mathematician, etc. To me it’s obvious that the students in the 2 kinds of universities represent 2 populations with only a little overlap between them. The synergy that exists in a demanding B&M classroom among motivated students is a powerful part of their education and should not be underestimated, as pointed out by DarrenG.

    One last point. Accreditation has changed dramatically to accomodate the for-profit/on-line universities. As one example, compare the number of scholars that teach full-time in both kinds of places. The for-profits do it on the cheap by using almost all part-time adjuncts who are paid by the course without fringe benefits, who may be knowledgable but are usually not at the forefront of new knowledge generation, research publication, and textbook writing. For the B&M professors, this is their life’s work. For the adjuncts at the for-profits/on-lines, it is usually a part-time extra job. As accreditating agencies have been examining the CVs of the professors at each type of institution over the recent years, what changes must they have made to accredit the schools that have primarily adjunct faculties?

    • Stephen, Please show me the advertisement that UOPx puts out that says going to school at UOP is easier and faster. I started at UOPx with 38 credits from my prior school. I had to complete 82 credits, or 27 classes. It took me from March 2006 to July 2009, or three and one-half years to finish my Bachelors. I started my Masters in September of 2009 and completed it in August 2011, or two years. Not so fast.

      In the process, I had to write at least three essays for every course, meeting APA format and hitting all discussion points. Each essay averaged 1,200 words. This means I wrote a total of 120 individual essays for nearly 150,000 words. In addition, every course had at least two team papers due, many of which included PowerPoint presentations. On each team I had to collaborate with 3-4 individuals of different cultures and perspectives, from foreign countries, and in different time zones. One day late with any paper was a 10% deduction, 2 days-20%.

      During this entire time I worked full-time, moved my family across the country, put three kids through high school, married off a son and a daughter, and put one child into college. Oh, and I forgot to mention that my wife also graduated from UOPx during this time.

      Easy, no sir. Fast, absolutely not. Rigorous, absolutely. In fact, I believe in the online system so fervently that I have started my own school teaching all course through an Online Learning System. My courses are rigorous and require attention to detail, self-discipline, time management, organization, and work. Just the same as any ground course at most major universities.

  13. One TV ad for Keiser University comes to mind. Keiser is just now transitioning from for-profit to not-for-profit status because of investigations by the feds into the high student loan default rates at Keiser and similar places. Anyhow, Keiser shows a young lady standing in her nightgown, with the voice-over stating that for an on-line degree from Keiser, you would never have to wear anything else but the nightgown. What does this suggest to the viewer?

    Phoenix tells me, in on-line pop-ups, that I can get all kinds of credit for life experience, and could possibly earn a 4-year degree in 2 years. It is my understanding that I would have to pay a fee to get these CLEP credits, but no additional work would be required.

    By the way, do I understand that you are teaching courses on-line through your own on-line school with the educational credentials you have described? I’m just wondering.

    Kelly, I mean no disresect to you or others who have paid their dues to earn what they have. Obviously, your graduate program at Phoenix appears to have been very rigorous, as does your on-line learning business. But, this just isn’t representative of many of the Phoenix and other on-line degreed students I have had in my graduate psychology courses. Many were seriously deficient in writing skills, use of appropriate reference materials, arithmetic skills, and knowledge of undergraduate psychology material. Even class attendance and classroom conduct (in a graduate-level professional training program) have sometimes been unusually inappropriate. And, these issues have been far more common among on-line grads than B&M grads.

    I can see that we both have a lot of passion about our respective views and I’m certainly not suggesting that you change yours. I do think, though, that the debate does help to illuminate the issues for anybody that happen’s to drop in to Will’s blog.

    • Stephen, First to your question about my teaching. Yes, I have a Masters of Science in Psychology, and combined with 30 years of work experience, I teach Organizational Psychology. Other of the courses we offer are taught by Ph.D.’s and an Ed.D. candidate.

      UOP does offer credit for past work experience, life experience, military experience, and independent studies. So do more than half of the colleges and universities across the county. The entire Colorado Community College System, the entire Pennsylvania State College and University System, and many, many more accept Prior Learning for assessment for credits. And?

      As for distance, or Online learning, I would refer you to an article by Jeb Bush and Jim Hunt, both former governors, on the issue of Online/distance learning. You can find the article at This is dated today. In the article they cite research gather from over 20 years of data that show that ” in 70 percent of the cases, students who took distance-learning courses outperformed their counterparts who took courses in a traditional environment.” I’m just saying.

  14. Kelly, did you read the 20 comments posted in response by the article you cited which was written by two former politicians? Enough said!

    • Sure. The first one ridicules Dr. Neumann for being the CEO of United States University. The school is fully accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges, one of the six regional accrediting bodies that accredit public and private universities. The school is approved of the Board of Registered Nurses, and accredited by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC). CEO is such a derogatory term?

      The second comment ridicules “conservative politicians” as supporting cheap substandard education to the poor. Nothing was said of the sort in the entire article. In fact, the article is trying to drive public universities to understand the value of distance and online education as an alternative to the rising cost of higher education. This is a bad thing?

      PsstPhD’s argument is just silly.

      EveningSun states that no formal evaluation of online faculty is required. And yet, to retain accreditation these schools must adhere to the same standards for the entire program, online or ground. Also, if this is the case for for-profits, can it not be argued that it is the case for publics that teach online courses?

      From the Citizenry talks about Bush and Hunt holding a conference on private universities, but the article is pushing for better practices in public universities. Nothing is said by Bush or Hunt that private schools are better. They state in the last paragraph “Our public universities must adopt a new business model that will allow them to return to sound financial footing while addressing the variety of other challenges they now face.”

      Eveningsun also claims that the privates don’t want to pay taxes for educating the poor and middle class. Have you ever considered that as corporations the privates actually do pay taxes, and as publics, they actually expend the taxes without paying one dime?

      The argument we are having is ideological. There are those here who believe that public brick and mortar learning is the only option and are socialist in nature, and there are those who believe that online learning presents a viable option, and are capitalist in nature. The fact is, learning is a personal process and each learner has a different ability to learn. I did not do well in B&M learning, but did very well in Online learning. My wife is the opposite. Additionally, privates provide for opportunities that publics do not, and vice versa.

  15. Let me point out here that Mr. Knight’s writing style is clear, lucid, and well within the boundaries of acceptable grammar. He organizes his thoughts well, marshalls facts in support of his arguments, and where appropriate in this format he provides citations and references to external authorities where we can verify the information he points us to.

    Mr. Knight is megaparsecs ahead of the typical student assigned to one the undergraduate classes I taught at Phoenix for several years. I do not exaggerate for comic effect when I testify that I received papers turned in for grades that lacked any paragraph breaks and any citations whatsoever. Nor do I fib in the service of shock value to state that “group projects” were typically done almost exclusively by two students on teams of five or more, leaving three free riders who nevertheless received good credit and good marks for the work done by only a few.

    The problem was that the student body was, for the most part, simply unprepared for the academic rigors of a classes — and most of my students never demonstrated any ability to get up to that speed.

    Worse, and more personally frustrating, was the attitude of entitlement denial that I received back from my students who got bad grades from me (“bad” meaning in the range of “C”) — while I wouldn’t expect any of them to be happy about it, many of them took the attitude that I had broken some kind of a promise to them. And indeed, while that promise is not written down, the implication is there: they seemed to think “When you pay, you get an A.” I refused to make good on that covenant, engendered frequent and vicious student outrage in response, and received functionally no assurances from the administration that I was acting appropriately. In fact, the pressure I felt was not “When you pay, you get an A,” but rather “Pay your fee, get a C.”

    Mr. Knight likely was well ahead of that power curve, and I am pleased to see a positive experience and a positive outcome for him. After having done my time in the trenches, my impression is that he is the exception rather than the rule. (I’m not clear if his undergraduate or graduate degrees was obtained through UPhx; I would tend to expect a much higher caliber of student in a graduate program than the undergraduates I dealt with.)

    I’ve no issue with University of Phoenix being run as a for-profit business. I like for-profit businesses as a general rule, and I agree that a for-profit school can, potentially, reach audiences that public institutions cannot and that distance learning models can extend opportunities to educable populations who would otherwise not have access to a bricks-and-mortar educational institution. My issues are with open enrollment policy for undergraduate classes combined with mandatory grading structures that all but assure that if you pay your fee, you’ll get a C.

    • Burt, I am going to flatly refute your claims of “Pay the fee, get a C.” My wife graduated from UOPx. During her three years of attendance she was awarded a D in one course, and failed out of another. That’s number one.

      Number Two: I spent five and one-half years with UOPx in the finance department, 4 of those as a corporate director of student financial services. At my disposal was a tool known as an Authorized Failing-grade Tuition Credit. This credit allowed me to give a student a chance to retake a failed course if the failing grade was due to exigent circumstances. I did not award this credit more often than I did, and yet I still gave out thousands of dollars in credits for failed courses. If the policy was Pay the Fee get a C, there would have been no need for this credit.

      Number Three: If you are or were an instructor with UOPx you will know about the Early Alert System in place to allow faculty members to notify student academic counselors about students who are in jeopardy of failing a course. This system would not have been in place, and used frequently if Pay the fee, get a C was the policy.

      Finally, having worked directly with corporate directors of academics, I cannot tell you the number of discussion that were had about grade inflation and the need to curb it at every possible corner. On top of this, if a faculty member gave a student a failing grade or even a D, and the student complained, it was an act of congress to change that grade because the instructor almost always had the final say.

      So, it may be the case that you had your own policy of Pay the fee, get a C, but it absolutely was not university policy.

      • Let’s be clear: I did not and do not claim that there is an overt, explicit “Pay the fee, get a C” policy. The overt, explicit policies at University of Phoenix are all that anyone could reasonably ask them to be, and I quite agree that there are teeth to those policies. My issues are with the academic weight given by school policy to “group projects” creating free rider situations, and with the non-selective open enrollment policy.

        1. I take no joy in learning of a poor grade awarded to your wife (or to any student); I hope she was able to improve that mark later. One gets in to the teaching business hoping to take pleasure from seeing students succeed. With that disclaimed, I am gratified to read your reports that lower grades do stick; that is an unpleasant but necessary component of academic rigor, and I take your point that reversal of a grade is difficult. That is as it should be and I acknowledge your point.

        2. I was never made aware of this Early Alert System during my time teaaching (“facilitating” was the preferred word, but from my perspective it was the same thing) from 2004-2006. Either that system was in place and I was somehow never made aware of it, or it was not yet created at that time. If it did exist, I would have liked to have known about it. The concept sounds good. I am skeptical that it would do a lot of good, but I confess ignorance of actual experience. You are in a much better position than me to provide actual data.

        My skepticism derives from my own experience of sending warning messages to my students whose early performance showed them on track to peform at sub-C individual levels directly with suggestions and study tips intended and calculated to assist. Doing that invariably caused the students great emotional anxiety. But not once in dozens of classes produced an improvement in performance; maybe my suggestions and study tips were not very good. A small minority of students I sent those warnings to would drop the class and probably avoided a bad grade ont heir academic records as a result.

        3. At the time I taught, Phoenix had a requirement that nearly a student’s grade would be determined by participation in class discusions (nearly regardless of the quality of participation or the accuracy of statements made in participation), and by group projects in which I observed a lot of free riding going on — render it well within the realm of possiblity for a student with less-than-acceptable understanding of the subject could nevertheless emerge with a passing grade.

        In multiple instances in nearly every one of the dozens of classes I facilitated for the two years I did it, students whose individual work was in the high “F” to “D” range also got “A” and “B” level grades for group projects to which they had obviously contributed next to nothing. Because of the mandatory minimum weight assigned to the group projects segment of the class, these students wound up getting passing grades — because of good work done by other students. I call this “unearned credit.” You can call it what you like.

        4. I am of the opinion that if there were some level of selective student screening going on, there would be a lot less of this sort of thing going on. Higher-quality students produced more equitable distributions of work in group projects, making that component of the model more comfortable for me. That happened very infrequently in my experience.

        Conclusion. There can be rigor, and there can be academic success, in the University of Phoenix model. But there is also a significant possibility left open that there will be free riders passing through the system getting unearned credit, who should have been screened out through at least a minimal process of student selectivity.

        I’m happy to concede the last word to you in this exchange, should you wish it.

        • I’m not sure that the “free rider in the group project” is something that’s unique to UoPx, or to college in general.

          • Perhaps true. No, likely true.

            But I would have a problem with it no matter where it occurs; and it was written pretty hard into the University of Phoenix syllabus requirements. Perhaps those have changed; it has been more than 5 years since I was involved.

            Nor is University of Phoenix the only non-selective open-enrollment institution out there.

          • I had the opposite of a free-rider problem, once. I did almost all the work and got a “C” while everyone else got an “A.” Fortunately, my team members stood up for me and my grade was changed. The whole story is here.

  16. When faced with the issue of a team member who did no work, we simply deleted his or her name from the cover page. Problem solved. Also, the instructor had access to our team forum, so s/he could see the level of participation and grade accordingly. In the last several courses I took, we had to submit a peer review with every team assignment in which we assessed the contribution of our team mates.

    I didn’t really see that many problems with the team concept when the above took place.

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