What if You Were in Charge of the University of Phoenix

The Apollo Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix, was just sold for 1.1 billion dollars, and Tony Miller was appointed the new board chairman.  Let’s use this as a chance to engage in a little imaginative play, a sort of thought experiment. If you are up for it, please keep reading.

The UoP has new leadership on the board level and you just received a cryptic email. It is from Tony Miller with the subject, “seeking your leadership.” You open it and read the following:

Dear ___________,

As you may know, I was recently appointed the chair of the board for the Appolo Group. What you probably do not know is that we have been following and noticing your work for quite some time, and I have a proposition for you. Would you be willing to spare a few minutes for a brief phone conversation?

Of course, your first thought is that it is a scam, although it was not flagged as spam or junk mail. After inspecting the email address and inspired by pure curiosity, you send a reply, accepting the invitation to chat. Moments after sending your email, you get a response asking if you are available now.

You call the provided number and Tony Miller answers the phone. He restates what he wrote in the email and continues.

As you probably, the University of Phoenix has declining enrollment. It has been through a fair share or challenges ranging from investigations to lawsuits, enrollment declines to critiques that have tarnished and weakened its brand. As state Universities and others have entered the online space, the UoP, an ealry leader in online learning, has struggled to find its distinct niche. I would like to hire you to turn it around, to help establish a grand and bold vision for the University of Phoenix moving forward. We will pay you well and, more importantly, provide you with the resources that you require. All that we ask is for you to submit a short vision for the UoP with a sample of 3-5 key initiatives that will represent that vision.

Assuming that you were inclined to accept the offer, what sort of vision would you cast for the UoP? What would you establish as key initiatives moving forward? Of course, the UoP is a for-profit entity, so your plans must make fiscal sense. They must promise a reasonable return on investment. Beyond that, it is up to you. As a place to start, here is the current UoP mission statement:

University of Phoenix provides access to higher education opportunities that enable students to develop knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals, improve the performance of their organizations, and provide leadership and service to their communities.

I’d genuinely love to hear some of your ideas. Consider sharing them in the comment area. How might you refresh, refine or completely change the mission and direction of the organization? What sort of initiatives would be signature efforts of this new direction? As a way to get things going, here are five elements that I’d consider if I had a go at it.

I would take a new direction with the mission statement.

It might be something like this. “We help people build lifelong learning networks, competence, confidence, and the capacity for mission-minded impact in current and future vocations.

Move away from marketing and leading with the promise of degrees.

We would still issue degrees, but we would now put all of our marketing and improvement efforts upon the people of UoP. Our promise would not be focused on getting a degree to get a job or promotion. It would be upon becoming a personal of such great value and impact, that people would seek you out to help lead the charge.

Everyone builds a world-class, digital age, personal learning network.

This would be a core part of every program and every core offering. Austin Kleon warned that, if it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. We are going to make sure that everyone from employee to student at the UoP becomes an influencer and is building a robust and useful learning network in the digital age. People will learn how to represent their unique gifts and abilities, their accomplishments, their knowledge and skills, and they will be proud to be part of a worldwide UoP community.

Remember those commercials with the red sox? They were on to something, but they didn’t let it permeate the entire organization. It was a great commercial, but they didn’t let it drive them enough. You can’t make a promise like that unless you are all in on it, and I would invest the effort to be all in.

Reframe drop out and stop out.

Now our goal is to mentor people to gain the competence and confidence to have high levels of positive impact in their work, communities and the world. Our faculty will be identified, trained and then focused upon just that. We declare a moratorium on just grading assignments and letting students pass from class to class, ending with a grade. Our learning experiences will be project-based, inquiry-based, case-based, deeply engaging and persistently enlightening.

When you sign up to be a student at the UoP, you are joining a community that is intensely invested in your future, but we also have high expectations. We care deeply about retention but not because of some DOE standard. We do it because we want each person to thrive. As such, when and if a person has obtained the level of competence and confidence to achieve their goals, we have no problem letting them move on, even if it is prior to finishing a degree. We will get creative about recognizing their accomplishment up to that point and making sure they know there is always an open seating awaiting them upon their return.

We are committed to providing a lifelong learning network.

Once you join the UoP community, we are committed to helping you throughout life. That comes with career assistance, ongoing professional development, coaching and mentoring, and whatever other related elements you need. We will be known for hosting some of the most amazing and inspiring events for our students and alumni that you can find. They will eventually compete with the brand of TED, but exclusive access is limited to those in the UoP community. In addition, we are going to invest in the best ideas within our community, becoming known as a place that supports and ignites entrepreneurship, becoming a place to learn how to start new ventures that benefit the world.

This isn’t necessarily the vision or strategy that I would set for every higher education institution, but given the unique and distinct history and attributes of the UoP, this is where I would take it. I am confident that it would be both profitable and impactful. It could help recover and then improve the brand of the organization. It could also once again make the UoP an industry leader and visionary in the future of learning in a connected age.

That is my idea. How about you? You’ve just been placed in charge of the UoP. Where will you take it?

One Reply to “What if You Were in Charge of the University of Phoenix”

  1. Jonathan Coleman

    My first thought was “lifelong learning” before I read your five elements. What if for-profit education was reimagined as a career-long subscription for leadership development, additional job skills training (micro credentials), coaching / mentoring, networking, and job placement services?

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