In the December 1, 1996 issue of CIO magazine these prophetic remarks appeared:
Already a growing number of companies exist only in cyberspace. Doctors can now use teleconferencing technology to examine maximum-security inmates at a prison 350 miles away, saving time and money while eliminating concerns about safety. And thanks to the Internet, people anywhere in the world can earn a degree from the University of Phoenix without ever setting foot in Arizona.
In 1996 University of Phoenix was flexing it online-education muscle. Yet way back even further, in 1983 – when Ronald Reagan was in his first term of office, the personal computer was in its infancy, and the Internet was simply a gleam in then Congressman Al Gore's eye – University of Phoenix had already advanced the challenge it was mounting to traditional nonprofit higher education.
This challenge was informed by a sensibility that fairly captured the Reagan years, as the United States moved out of a deep, long recession into a vibrant recovery led, of course, by a sound commitment to certain capitalist fundamentals. "A university that thinks like a business and acts like a business is good for American business," ran the catchphrase of a 1983 University of Phoenix magazine advertisement. This catchphrase echoes a famous line uttered decades earlier by President Calvin Coolidge: "The business of government is business."
Yet University of Phoenix gives these words of Coolidge's a new twist. University of Phoenix is not the government. It is, rather, a business that makes business its business. This simply goes to show you how opportunities abound in a free-market system; around businesses spring up ancillary businesses to serve the formers' needs, and in this way job growth is both spurred and insured. America gets put to work, and fears of further economic sluggishness get put to bed.
In order for a business like the University of Phoenix to grow and flourish, fine attunement to market signals are essential. "The mentality of the American public has shifted from a historically awed pride in our colleges and universities to a consumerist mentality," write David Cecil Smith and Anne Karin Langslow in their 1999 book, "The Idea of a University." "We are being asked to justify the market value of what we do, and there is increasing interest in for-profit, money-making institutions, such as the University of Phoenix, which provide an education targeted specifically to the career development needs of adult students." To the victors go the spoils – and deservedly so! Entrepreneurs ought to realize ample reward for their vision and hustle in bringing their product to market. After all, University of Phoenix would not be the success story it is if there were no demand for its services.
A demand-driven higher education market create a situation in which some prevail while others quail. And prevail University of Phoenix indeed has, and has done so on what can only be described as an eminently level playing field. "While for-profit programs may not have the name recognition and reputation of more traditional universities," observes an article in the January 2005 issue of The Rotarian, "they must pass the same accreditation process mandated by the six regional institutional accrediting associations in the United States." University of Phoenix and others of its ilk (Kaplan University and Liberty University Online) enjoy no free ride when it comes to consolidating and maintaining market position. Market forces determine their fate.
Their fate has proven generally a pleasant one. Just nine years ago University of Phoenix was putting up some strong numbers, and experts predicted more strong performance from it. An article in the October 2002 issue of Kiplinger's reports that "the University of Phoenix ... has 125,000 students enrolled on traditional and online classes. In the most recent quarter, enrollment in the university's online program grew 76% from the same quarter the previous year."
Such boffo returns were certainly not made to last, but what was truly phenomenal was predicted to return to merely strong. "Growth should decelerate ... but analysts still expect its earning to climb 25% annually over the next few years." The "aughties" represented a boom time in online higher education, and head and shoulders above the competition rose University of Phoenix, which has come to emblematize the industry as a whole. When most people think online learning, they think University of Phoenix.
With this great name recognition comes tremendous responsibility, and University of Phoenix shows every sign of being willing to live up to this responsibility. A November 30, 2011 press release appearing in The Sacramento Bee reports that "100 Black Men of America and University of Phoenix have announced a collaboration that will enhance the delivery of mentoring services for members of traditionally underserved communities across the nation. Over the last 12 months, the University of Phoenix has donated 15 full-tuition scholarships and more than $200,000 to 100 Black Men of America to help build local chapter infrastructure throughout the nation and to support the organization's mentoring initiatives."
Truly University of Phoenix feels it needs to live up to certain commitments. In this they point the way forward into the next nine decades of the century. Our welfare as a civilization depends crucially on striking a harmonious balance between private and public needs. By devising private means for proffering a public solution, namely, a trained and educated workforce capable of meeting the demands of a technology-driven global market, University of Phoenix shows itself an indispensible actor in the present century – and perhaps in the century to come.