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Ashford University Gets Accreditor’s Go-Ahead to Transfer Legal Status

By Henry Kronk
July 16, 2019

Ashford University announced on July 15 that they had received the green light from their accreditor, WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), to transition ownership of the for-profit institution to a newly-formed non-profit organization.

At the same time, WSCUC also renewed Ashford’s accreditation for another six years.

“This decision, along with the approval we previously received from the IRS, represents a significant milestone in our journey to become an independent, nonprofit university,” said Dr. Craig Swenson, Ashford University’s president, in a statement. “Attaining that goal will further enhance our ability to develop additional resources for the benefit of our students.”

Zovio–formerly Bridgepoint Education–Made the Decision to Transfer Ashford University into a Non-Profit in 2018

Ashford is owned by Zovio, a publicly traded company previously known as Bridgepoint Education. The company changed its name in April of this year.

In 2018, the company ran two for-profit universities—Ashford University and University of the Rockies. In March of that year, the company announced plans to join these two institutions into one, spin them off into an independent non-profit, and transition itself into an online program management (OPM) service provider.

To make this change, Zovio requires approval from the IRS, its accreditor WSCUC, the U.S. Department of Education, and state regulators as well. As of this week, it has checked off two of those boxes.

As a revamped OPM, Zovio has made two acquisitions this year. They picked up the coding bootcamp Fullstack Academy in March for roughly $20 million. At the same time, the company amended their SEC filings, saying that, contrary to what they previously reported, they had incurred an operating loss in the range of $13.6 million to $14 million during the quarter ending in December 2018. A month later, Zovio acquired TutorMe, an online tutoring platform.

The Decision Comes as the House Passes Defense Bill Requiring Audit of GI Tuition Assistance

The accreditor approval of Ashford University comes following the passage of a defense bill in the House that targets for-profit colleges’ policy toward veteran students. The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House on Friday. Following an amendment introduced to the bill by Florida Rep. Donna Shalala, the new version tasks the DoD with creating a publicly available website that will show where veteran tuition assistance funds are being spent.

In addition, it mandates that the DoD needs to independently audit for-profit colleges that do not meet certain “financial responsibility” standards. The amendment reads, “The Secretary of Defense shall audit the eligibility a proprietary institution of higher education to participate in the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance Program if the institution does not meet the financial responsibility standards under section 498 of the Higher Education Act 7 of 1965.”

An investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education in November 2017 revealed that Ashford University had cut corners to more easily enroll veterans using tuition assistance. To get around the stricter regulations for receiving veteran tuition assistance in California, Ashford had set up a second “headquarters” in Arizona, where applications would be approved more quickly. That office was “roughly the size of a Chipotle restaurant,” according to the Chronicle.

The actions amounted to noncompliance and, following the investigation, the institution said it would freeze GI Bill student enrollments.

Featured Image: Tom Hoffmann accepts a diploma from Ashford University on behalf of his daughter, Sidney Hoffman, who was serving in Afghanistan with the Kentucky National Guard at the time. Courtesy of 

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