Is the University of Phoenix Online a safe bet?
October 10, 2006 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I am considering getting a degree online from the University of Phoenix. Are they really considered reputable to your average employer or does it look like you took the easy way out? I've heard that in some situations they will give you partial credit for technical schools and computer certifications (MCSE, CCNA, ect.). Is this true? Can you clep classes like at traditional colleges? Are the classes and instructors the same quality as a traditional brick and mortar college?

About me:

I got a two year "degree" from a technical school that's not accredited in any way. I would like to have something more concrete to put on my resume and maybe give me a little more credibility with my peers. I got my job by working my way up from the bottom and have been very successful. However, if I had walked in off the street they wouldn't have even interviewed me. I work a lot of hours and am expected to adjust my day to deal with emergencies so going to classes at scheduled times would be difficult (if not impossible).

My employer will pay for 100% of my degree (but only 12 credits a year) up to and including a doctorate, so I'm only limited by my time and ambition. I plan on working there for the foreseeable future, so time isn't that important (although I'd like to get a degree before I reach retirement). Also, my boss' job will be opening up in about 4 years (he's retiring as soon as he's vested) and I'd have a good shot at getting it but a much better shot with a degree. I haven’t decided if I even want his job but I would like to be in a position to apply and at least be seriously considered if I change my mind. Thank you in advance for your input.
posted by bda1972 to Education (31 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There are a TON more "Distance Education" schools other than the U of Phoenix that you may want to check out. Try an AskMeFi search for online education, distance education, distance degree, etc.
posted by k8t at 5:23 PM on October 10, 2006

Almost all Universities offer up Distance Education. Look into a real university.

That said, it's usually the prior work that will get you the degree... if someone came in tomorrow with a loaded portfolio of awesome work, and a degree signed in crayon, they'd be hired.
posted by hatsix at 5:34 PM on October 10, 2006

You know who uses online/distance education a *lot*? The US Military.

Uncle Sam has already done a lot of the legwork for you. Check out the DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Services) list of Accredited Distance Learning Programs. You've got *lots* of options.
posted by enrevanche at 5:37 PM on October 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

I was under the impression that the University of Phoenix was a fake school or a degree mill. Given, this is an assumption that I put together through just seeing their ads and hearing it as the punchline in jokes, but that's likely the way that potential employers have heard of it too.

It's not that much more work to take classes through an actual accredited institution. State schools can be reasonably cheap (cheaper, probably), and many of them have mighty flexible schedules. I started my undergrad degree late in adulthood, and it was hard, but not really that hard. And having an 'actual' degree gives you a lot more options down the road.
posted by jennyjenny at 5:42 PM on October 10, 2006

My HR friend calls Phoenix "Pop Up University".
posted by Sallyfur at 5:52 PM on October 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

posted by caddis at 6:09 PM on October 10, 2006

Congratulations on wanting to advance your education. Although IANAHR Guy, the University of Phoenix is just not a credible institution, period. You're much better served looking at state school distance learning, or failing that a school like Union Institute & University that at least has academic bonafides to some greater extent. Having spoken to employers, you'll get more consideration citing...well, pretty much any other accredited school.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:18 PM on October 10, 2006

Argument for Classroom Program: I'm a nighttime student in a classroom-based program and my professors are very understanding of the fact that work comes first. Plus, since each class only meets once a week, that's really only one night *at risk* per class that you take in terms of work emergencies. YMMV of course.

Argument for Different Online Program: I'd shoot for something better. Umass, Lehigh, U. Illinois, Drexel U., U Maryland (Univ College), FSU, Villanova, and Penn State all appear to offer online programs upon Google search. I'd look into some more traditional programs that are offered online.
posted by ml98tu at 6:28 PM on October 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'm not HR, either, but have hired a lot of folks and screened a lot of resumes. My general rules have always been "If you didn't finish, you didn't go" and "If you didn't go, you didn't go."

It's not the content that counts. Most tech content is perishable and all schools have spotty performance when it comes to teaching the most current technology...

It's the ability to make a multi-year plan and follow through with it that counts. It's hard, but it's our modern equivalent of going out and getting that eagle feather... a right of passage into serious adulthood.

You can't outsource it and if you take the easy way out, YOU will be your own worst critic for the rest of your career. Insist on quality, take as long as it takes, make it count... be proud of what you have accomplished when you are done. Then, enroll in graduate school!

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 6:36 PM on October 10, 2006

i'm in my first quarter at drexel's distance program (library science), and they seem to be pretty accomodating for people who work. here is a list of the bachelor degrees they offer. i'm still getting the hang of things, but it's really not that bad. it's not the same as a classroom environment, but i do know something about some of my "classmates" (we exchanged pictures of our pets), and i know i have pretty much all week to do what i need to do.

i wish i could speak more about it, but this is my second week of "class".
posted by kendrak at 6:39 PM on October 10, 2006

I'm ambivalent about on-line ed, but I do know that the University of Illinois (where I'm teaching in the humanites) offers some pretty reputable on-line programs. The ones dealing with computer and engineering stuff have been around for a while now. Here's a lazily pasted link:
posted by washburn at 6:51 PM on October 10, 2006

UoP is accredited by the North Central Association, and the Higher Learning Commission, the same accrediting body that accredits Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, and about 5,000 other institutions of similar merit. I wouldn't worry about the "legitimacy" of a UoP degree, and people that do don't understand much about accreditation.

They also have 190 physical campuses, and are, by undergrad enrollment, the largest educational institution in the U.S. Tens of thousands of students every year finance education at University of Phoenix with Department of Education and employer guaranteed financing, military benefits, and other third party money, none of which would continue to flow there long if it weren't providing legitimate education.

They don't have a football team, or a basketball team, or cheerleaders, or homecoming bonfires. They don't have dormitories, or fraternity houses. But they have plenty of people, doing plenty of real academic work.

You can take CLEP exams for a certian amount of credit at University of Phoenix (although you don't take the tests at UoP, but at approved College Board testing sites), depending on your degree program and its requirements, as you can at most other accredited institutions. University of Phoenix is neither more or less liberal about CLEP credit than other institutions.

University of Phoenix credits are not inexpensive; generally, if there is a state institution offering similar programs, you'd get more hours for equivalent dollars there. But if your employer is paying, you won't care so much about the rate per credit hour, and you will care about completing your program. University of Phoenix has an excellent completion rate, partially due to its physical campus programs, and their Learning Team model.

Full disclosure: I attended classes and graduated with a BS from UoP Atlanta, in 2004. I'd previously done course work at many other accredited institutions, and transferred appropriate course credits and CLEP credits to completion of my program. My UoP Bachelor's degree was accepted without problem by a Master's program at another institution.

Generally, I found that online course offerings are harder than courses taught at the physical campuses, simply because the on-line program requires considerable computer time, and more reading, with no verbal discussion or lecture. You are basically doing guided reading and a lot of writing, and what interaction you have with teachers and classmates is pretty much like any Internet forum -- short and choppy, in text. I enjoyed traditional classes much more than online classes, as did most people I talked with who had taken both versions. There is nothing "easy" about University of Phoenix programs; the Atlanta campus where I went typically experienced a 50% drop out rate for the undergraduate programs I was part of, in the 2 years I was there. Most students in my program devoted 12 to 15 hours a week to classes and coursework, and more than once, I saw people cry in frustration trying to understand the material, and stay up with class work. Compared to courses I took at Georgia State in the same period, UoP classes went faster, and used more custom produced material, with fewer textbooks. UoP classwork required a better standard of writing on average than Georgia State, because papers and projects were a bigger percentage of overall grades at UoP than at Georgia State. Tests are de-emphasized at UoP, but I found that grade inflation was more rampant at Georgia State. Most of my UoP classmates graduated with GPA in the 2.8 to 3.1 range.
posted by paulsc at 6:58 PM on October 10, 2006

I have not been impressed with the people I have worked with who had UofP degrees.
posted by mattholomew at 7:23 PM on October 10, 2006

paulsc is correct: UoP is a legitimate institution, it is not a diploma mill. I worked for a fully online graduate school for several years (not UoP): the NCA accreditation process is not a simple rubber stamp. It is an intensive examination of the school's educational programs.

Distance education is a major component of the future of higher education and people who proclaim brick and mortar schools as the only "real schools" are simply ignorant and living in the past.

That said, I can't speak to the quality of education at UoP in particular. As this thread makes clear, right or wrong UoP and distance education in general still has reputation issues. But its prevalence is growing so quickly that this is changing. I would not make perceived reputation the only or most important component of this decision.

I would also affirm the advice others have given - look at all your options. As online and distance education grows it is taking a significant bite out of the traditional education market and traditional schools are starting to offer more options for the working professional. Research your options and focus on the specific program you are pursuing - learn about the program, speak with faculty, choose the best program you can manage with your schedule.
posted by nanojath at 8:12 PM on October 10, 2006

Find an online program whose degree will never indicate it is an online program, unlike Devry or Phoenix.
posted by craniac at 8:27 PM on October 10, 2006

I am deeply skeptical of on-line and distance learning models for education. There is a lot that goes on in a classroom and outside of it between students and instructors and between students and students that is a key part of education. This is why, for instance, MIT has no problem attempting to put *all* its course materials not subject to copyright : class notes, slides, problem sets, solutions, exams, animations, videos, you name it on-line and in the public domain (OCW). But going through those materials does not get you an MIT education (until they can figure out how to transmit suffering on-line, that is).

For education, the process is important, and I separate that in my mind from just acquiring content. Of course, it is quite possible that there are distance-learning institutions that do a good job of educating their students, including the UofP.

Good luck.
posted by bumpkin at 8:32 PM on October 10, 2006

For an anti UoP view: Uop Sucks

My personal view: Come on, they advertise with pop-ups.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:38 PM on October 10, 2006

I know a few people with graduate degrees from Golden Gate and UoP.

I was unimpressed. Or rather, I was no more impressed with them after they got the degree.
posted by luriete at 8:42 PM on October 10, 2006

one of my coworkers is doing u of phoenix. it is not easy, and as previously stated, likely harder than actually attending class. i am not a college graduate (who needs that big loan debt hanging over them?), but i hung out there for 5 years and i watched all of my pals skim thru smoking the weeds, getting bombed, getting laid and recycling each others papers, old exams and projects. how many of them work in their field of study? about 1 in 10. dont be afraid of going online, its 2006 and if a potential employer cant tell if you know your shizzle and is hung up on where you learned it you dont want the job anyway.
posted by fumbducker at 8:42 PM on October 10, 2006

Are they really considered reputable to your average employer or does it look like you took the easy way out?

As stated upthread, if you want education, you can get it at UoP.If your main intent was to gain a skillset needed for your job, perhaps it'd be a good option. But you are specifically looking to get a degree for what it will signify when you seek a promotion. Whether UoP is actually legit or not, it is not widely well-regarded, especially by those not intimately familiar with the coursework.
posted by desuetude at 10:20 PM on October 10, 2006

"...Are the classes and instructors the same quality as a traditional brick and mortar college? ..."

Every classroom instructor at UoP was, at the time I attended, required by the institution to maintain full time employement in the field which they teach, in some role that was directly related to the subject matter of the courses they taught. One excellent instructor we had for Object Oriented Database Management Sytems, was downsized by his day employer, and was temporarily suspended from teaching at UoP, until he caught on with another company, which put some of my classmates in a schedule bind, because he was to have taught a course section that they needed, which had to be cancelled. So I saw first hand, that the institution enforced its faculty policies, even if it meant forgoing revenue and causing schedule issues.

The woman I had for Fundementals of Project Management was a senior project manager for a contractor to the state government of Georgia. She was running a $30 million, 7 month statewide software modernization project, while teaching my class.

The guy I had for Network Technology I & II was the director of network services for a major U.S. airline, with home offices in Atlanta. During the day, he headed an organization of 400+ people, with line responsibility for a $70 million operating budget. During his classes we discussed VoIP infrastructure as a service model in IPv4 and IPv6 implementations, as an additional topic, over and above the required coursework, because he was designing a leading edge VoIP rollout for his whole corporation, and several of us were interested in the topic. Though our classes officially ended at 10:00 p.m., we often stayed until 11:00 p.m. over the ten weeks we were in class with him, to discuss this project.

The guy we had for Operating Systems was a support project lead for a major west coast computer manufacturer, and a reserve Air Force colonel who was a qualified navigator in C130's with over 14,000 flight hours. During the day, he alternated between a number of management and client liason responsibilities, but he had worked for his company for 21 years, and was a competent Unix shell programmer, a C/C++ programmer, and a certified O/S support specialist in a widely deployed commercial flavor of UNIX. He spent some time walking us through binary tree sorts that weren't strictly in the syllabus, because we asked about sorting strategies in both the memory managment and the file system units.

I was fairly impressed with the overall quality of instructors I met there, and I asked many of them why they were teaching there. For many, what they earned teaching was a minor income bump beyond their day jobs, but many enjoyed being in the classroom because of the mental stimulation teaching brought them. None of these people were professional academics, and each of them felt that returning to the classroom was something of an unexpected privilege, and that it really did inform the rest of their lives. You could see it in their eyes, when we asked serious questions, or challenged them on some point of a lecture. They rose to defend their position with ardor, and they ran fair but challenging classrooms. Nobody ever fell asleep, in any class I attended there, for over two years.

I took an Information Technology program, which had a number of sub-specialty alternatives. It was not a Computer Science program, and it did not involve the lab work a CS curriculum typically involves. In contrast, it did involve courses in business ethics, business process modeling, telecommunications, and humanties electives that CS majors often forego. Considering the syllabi of the courses, and the program description, the instruction offered, and the professionalism of the instructional staff seemed to me to be on a par with other area institutions with which I had personal contact, and was appropriate to the goal of providing a useful educational experience.

But what would I know? I'm a brain dead UoP graduate, who took the easy way out ;-)
posted by paulsc at 10:48 PM on October 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

To (more or less) quote Mattholomew and Luriete:

I was not impressed.

In most cases, in some industries, UoP/distance/online degrees will likely not allow you to climb the corporate ladder as fast or faster than your brick and mortar educated competitors.

But seriously, "[You're] not impressed"??!

Clearly, you mean to say that you are taken aback by the intellect apparently beaming out of your brick and mortar educated chums.

I graduated from a decent-enough school (University of California, Davis) and I work with people who graduated from Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and Pepperdine (among other West Coast schools), as well as people who have completed UoP/distance educations. I can honestly say that I have never been impressed with ANY of them (enough for it to register as "impressive" in my long term memory, anyway) with regards to the college education they received. I have been impressed with their work individually, which has very little (if anything) to do with where they went to school.

Although, this guy in my team from Cal constantly corrects our grammar, even in the most informal conversations. His dedication to this cause is, among other things, impressive. But I digress.

Working for a software dev company, I can say that we receive resumes that have "stanford graduate, 1-2 yrs work experience" and "relevant distance program completed, 4-6 yrs work experience" pedigrees. These people are usually the same age.

Guess who has a better chance at making it to round two.

So is a flip-side to it. Some companies actually prefer "strong work experience" over "strong educational background", believe it or not!
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 11:47 PM on October 10, 2006

paulsc, who usually posts very good answers here, seems to be a bit too close to this question to answer it well.

The first question from the OP is about the perception of UoP, not about whether it is, in actuality, a good school. I would agree with the prevailing sentiment expressed in this thread, which is that a UoP degree, regardless of its actual difficulty, is not viewed as favorably as a degree from institutions that don't advertise by pop-up. In addition, because UoP advertises that way, your (future) employer is more likely to have some opinion of the place, to recognize the name and to have formed some opinion. So you're really gambling that that opinion is a good one.

I don't have enough information to say whether or not UoP provides a good education and is a good school. I'm willing to take paulsc's word for it, but, unfortunately, neither has any bearing on the present prevailing opinion about the place.
posted by OmieWise at 5:34 AM on October 11, 2006

Me: UoP undergrad degree in Business, 1997, at the NorCal campus in San Jose - no distance ed in my particular program. Overall, I believe that this is truly a program that will give you what you put into it. You WILL learn a lot and be able to apply classroom lessons to your real-world job - if you take it seriously. And my UoP degree (plus GRE) was sufficient to get me into Baylor University graduate school, where my undergrad skills were indeed utilized.

It ain't Harvard. It ain't "Walk-Thru U." It's somewhere in between. And as noted above, it is a bit more expensive than some of your other options. But what it DOES do is give you a very clear path to follow, once you enroll, and if you stick with it, you will find yourself progressing steadily towards your goal.
posted by davidmsc at 5:39 AM on October 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've taken a few classes at the UofP, and I was impressed with the quality of teaching for "OnGround" courses. It was easily better or equivalent to my previous "real" college experience. It's clear that they don't have a great reputation on the internet, but I seriously doubt that most people have direct experience with the UofP. I'm not a big fancy of their "Flex-Net" or half OnGround, half via Internet classes, but their regular classes are great.

I did find them exceptionally expensive. You could get a better deal through a state college/local college if they have an available program.

I've never heard of anyone I know with a UofP degree getting grief because of their degree, although most of the people I know with UofP degrees got masters in Counselling degrees, not Bachelors, and are all successfully employed in high-level counselling positions.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:12 AM on October 11, 2006

I worked in HR at a very tech-heavy company. U of P grads, unless otherwise astounding, went on the same pile as grads of tech schools that advertise during cartoon shows on Saturday mornings. As stated further upthread, many universities have distance learning. I'd check those out and take U of P as a "safety" choice, at best.

No offense to anyone here who holds a degree from them, but if the predominant perception of the school is that it is a degree mill, then it might as well really be a degree mill. 10 years from now that image might change, but do you want to fight it for that length of time?
posted by nevercalm at 10:55 AM on October 11, 2006

I have been impressed with both paulsc and davidmsc's answers in the green over the years. And their attitude. So my impression of UoP went from very low to high hearing that they both attended.
posted by vronsky at 4:20 PM on October 11, 2006

I was hoping to get two things from this question: 1) some detailed experiences of UofP from past students and 2) some first impressions of what people think when they hear the words University of Phonex Online from a co-worker or job candidate. I'm satisfied on both counts.

I'm torn between learning cool stuff and hopefully becoming better at my current job or getting what's universally considered to be a "credible" degree and hopefully advancing my career. I have little doubt after reading paulsc's comments that UofP is a quality school (and his detailed description of his instructors further piqued my interest) but at the same time it's hard to ignore the comments from many posters that they would be suspicious of a UofP degree. Nevercalm stated my biggest concern about the perception being more important than the facts.

Of course, getting a fancy degree doesn't say much about your skill level or job performance. I work in a K-12 school district and am unimpressed on a daily basis with my co-workers who hold masters and doctorate degrees. Sometimes I wonder how they tie their shoes in the morning without assistance. In many cases, their degree is the sole reason they got hired.

I agree that the value of any degree depends on how much time and effort you put forth while obtaining it. The time I spent at a technical school was a great experience for me because I gave 100% and stayed late to learn additional stuff from my instructors. When I graduated I was ready to hit the ground running and that's just what I did. However, the majority of my fellow classmates either dropped out or are turning a sign from slow to stop on a road contruction crew (not that there's anything wrong with that job, but I wouldn't spend $30K to do it).

I scheduled a meeting with our HR Director to discuss my options and get her opinion on UofP (and other online programs). She's a very educated person with a lot of experience in her field so I'm sure she's got an opinion on the matter.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences and opinions.
posted by bda1972 at 8:48 PM on October 11, 2006

I'm a hiring manager, I've hired dozens and interviewed hundred of people for both major companies and smaller ones. I can honestly say that if the resume gets to me, I completely ignore all education listed when deciding whether to interview or hire. It is simply not any sort of predictor of performance, in my experience. I generally do not hire for entry-level positions where it might matter, to be fair.

I couldn't tell you if any of my interviewees or hires have been Phoenix grads or not, since I do not care.

Note the italics above. It is quite possible that the resumes are screened before they get to me, and that some HR folks may have taken it upon themselves to omit those without degrees or with "bad pedigree" degrees. I don't think so, since I usually tell them not to do this, but it is possible.
posted by Invoke at 9:18 AM on October 12, 2006

My feeling is: If I were to attend UoP, I would be supporting a company that advertises with popups. This I simply will not do.
posted by Four Flavors at 4:06 PM on October 13, 2006

Golly - thank you, vronksy. It's strange, but coming from someone that I've never met but who participates in MeFi, and given the context of this thread, I am seriously honored by your comment.
posted by davidmsc at 12:48 PM on October 29, 2006

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