Thursday, July 11, 2013

Another Sign That Online For-Profit Universities Are Different - and Not More Efficient

This story came across the higher education wires this morning:
Ashford earns accreditation with Western Association on second try
What's interesting to me here is not the possible accreditation-shopping, or the fact that a for-profit, mostly online institution has struggled to retain accreditation. Both of those are old news. What caught my eye was this paragraph:
Ashford made a number of changes over the last year, some of them painful. In September it eliminated 450 jobs in admissions and reassigned another 400 admissions employees.
 At its height, Ashford had about 95,000 students, the vast majority online (it's now down to about 79,000). That's a lot of students, more than any traditional university in the United States. But according to this news item, at their peak they also had a minimum of 850 people working in admissions (possibly more, in that there may be hundreds that were neither laid off nor reassigned).

This is positively astounding. As a student-to-admissions staff ratio, it's staggering. My current institution had, at its recent peak, about 18,000 students, and a combined admissions staff across all areas (graduate, undergraduate, professional) of maybe 30 - a 600:1 student-staff ratio. Ashford's was nearly six times that before their cuts, and is still at least three times higher now (and probably more).

Why this massive investment in admissions? Ashford obviously regards this as their "sales force", dedicated to the all-important task of getting customers in the door. But that's a LOT of money they're shelling out in sales costs to get those customer dollars - far more than traditional non-profit universities do, leaving much less for the cost of actual instruction. And we thought that "business-oriented" universities were supposed to be more efficient?

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