San Diego Ashford University Ex-Employee Writes About Getting Shafted

by on September 28, 2012 · 26 comments

in Business, Education, Government

(Editor’s Note: We received this letter in response to a story that we ran this week about Bridgepoint Education/Ashford University laying off hundred of employees here in the San Diego area.  Our premise for the original story was that Bridgepont/Ashford was just another in a long series of morally bankrupt corporations that have been touted as the darlings of the San Diego establishment.  Our correspondent, who for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous, certainly does a good job of making the case for us.)   

As a former employee of Ashford University, I am very upset with the way we were treated, lied to and disposed of by a company that found legal loop holes in the system that allowed them to take advantage of 450 people.

I was hired early in the summer and was told that we should not worry about the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) denial of the company’s application for accreditation, and that Ashford had already started making corrections to get the approval the next time around.

At the end of my training I was assured by the president of talent acquisition and recruiting that, as long as we dedicated a year in the admissions counselor (AC) position, Ashford would give us the opportunity to prove our selves as being able to perform the job to their minimum expectation, which was enrolling 2 students each week and a 53% ‘lead to contract’ ratio (among other factors).

When I started the AC position I was told this was not a sales position, but it turned out to be just that. The expectation was when you got a prospective student on the phone to get them to enroll that week, whether they were ready to start or not. Managers would listen to the phone calls and tell you things to say to persuade the person to either enroll with the school or to leave their current school and come to Ashford because what we had was “better”.

A week before the layoff,  200 hundred employees that had been with Ashford for more then 6 months were sent an email telling them they would be offered ‘student inquiry coordinator’ positions. They were given the option of taking the new position at the same starting pay rate as Admission Counselors or leaving the company.

Of course everyone not wanting to be unemployed took the offer. Now they were considered Bridgepoint employees and no longer working for Ashford. This offer was made to these employees because they were covered under the Cal WARN act and would have to be given a 60 day warning of the layoff.

Since Ashford needed to decrease the admissions department by December as part of the accreditation process, these employees needed new job descriptions by then so that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) investigation into the University’s operations would show that the schools was making required changes.

The Wednesday prior to the layoff all admissions counselors were sent an email requiring us to attend a meeting where the new positions with the company would be explained, how we were selected and how this change would affect our jobs as ACs. During this meeting they did not say anything about a layoff; in fact they told us that this change would make our jobs easier.

They said the employees were selected for the change because they had a good lead to contact ratio. This turned out not to be the case because the employees selected were covered under the WARN act. No employee moved to the student inquiry position had less then 6 months (the cut-off under State law) with the company.

On Thursday I received a mandatory benefits meeting request, where my qualification for benefits were explained to me and was told how I could  apply for them. On Friday evening I was given another mandatory meeting request, stating more changes would be explained.

Everyone who received this particular email had less then six months with Ashford. At that Monday meeting,  the Vice President of Human resources told us that we were selected simply because our hire date was later than April 2, 2012. We were then told we were being laid off because the Admissions Counselor position was being eliminated effective September  24, 2012. She also stated that they would be providing us with a severance benefits package.

The catch to this benefits package was that we had to sign and return a copy of the Admissions Counselor Reduction Program Wavier and Release form. Without this form we would be given nothing. Ashford wanted each employee to waive their rights under specific labor laws specified in the release letter, and to agree not to bring any law suit of wrong-doing because of this action. In addition, the letter stated that we agree that the letter does not put any admission of guilt on Ashford having violating our rights.

I believe Ashford University knowingly found loop holes in the labor laws that allowed then to offer employees who were covered under the WARN act options to different employment opportunities and to dispose of those who where not covered under the act. The release form is Ashford’s way of protecting themselves from any additional law suits and, in turn, they will pay off those who will agree to the terms listed in the release letter.

I believe this is disrespectful to the former employees, the accrediting bodies and the San Diego community, as well as the military community that supports Ashford University. I hope something can be done about how they conduct business at the expense of those who are now unemployed in today’s tough economy.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sandra September 28, 2012 at 10:36 am

Smelled the toxicity of Ashford, was stressed to the point of illness and walked. They boast of being ethical and do not seem to know the meaning. Lots of corporate koolaid being consumed. I’ve never witnessed such a fear based environment in my life. If u know of noncompliance in a manager or higher, they don’t do anything about it. Funny part is that they compare themselves to Stanford. So not the same!

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avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman September 28, 2012 at 11:35 am

For the sake of readers’ understanding, it would be useful to identify “Ashford University”
with its connection to slick operator Bridgepoint which is under federal scrutiny for scamming vets and harvesting a fortune in forfeited student loans.

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avatar Anna Daniels September 28, 2012 at 11:36 am

Is this the brave new world for future wage earners? It sure seems so if we swallow the swill about free markets and their “moral” superiority which are served up daily by the right wing. Corporations can buy lawyers to exploit all of the loopholes in the laws that protect workers; their accountants can figure out how to extract the last drop of profit from public largesse and employee productivity. The human beings who work for these entities are reduced to transactional units that can be dispensed with totally or interchanged with other transactional units. Behold the moral superiority of the free market.

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avatar RB September 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm

This is not a free market. It is a market distorted by the federal student loan program. Bridgepoint, Ashford and many other so called hard sell, low graduation rate educational organizations exist due to the failure of the federal student loan program.

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avatar Anna Daniels September 28, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Bridgepont and Ashford pimp off the public taxpayer via powerful lobbyist who can effect legislation to their benefit. This is the failure and utter hypocrisy of the “free market.”

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avatar Dave Rice September 28, 2012 at 10:40 pm

So the fact that student loans exist, not the fact that a handful of immoral companies are set up to scam the student loan system, is to blame for the existence of said immoral companies?

Should we assume that providing citizens with a means to obtain an education is to also assume that it’s only natural for businesses to exist to rob them of their money, and therefore any student loan program is a form of entrapment because anyone in a position to steal federal funds should be expected to do so?

I’ve got to be missing something here…

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avatar John Lawrence September 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm

The fact is that the so-called for profit universities exist in order to get students enrolled and then get them student loans. Their admission officers are nothing more than salesmen who hype every potential student to enroll regardless of qualifications or ability to pay. They then get them into debt with student loans. The for profits take their cut off the top. In many cases the students do not even complete the programs, but they are left with the debts anyway. University of Phoenix is another one that operates this way.

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avatar Tyler September 28, 2012 at 8:30 pm

One thing that has been touched on is the “fear-based” environment that Ashford (Bridgepoint) conveys to its employees. In emails about mandatory trainings, or even coachings or verbal warnings, it is always recognized that there could be “consequences up to, and including, termination.” If you don’t complete a training, you could be terminated? How ethical…

Another thing that should be delved into further is that the role of the admissions counselor WAS sales-based. The unwritten philosophy that was mentioned periodically by management is that you “cannot sell an education.” There was an email sent to certain prospective students that literally compared how much better the program was in terms of affordability, flexibility, and degree completion amongst others, and it compared selected schools outright. What about this email is NOT selling Ashford?

The one new thing that should be elaborated on completely is the approach that Ashford took here. By moving select employees to a new role at the Bridgepoint location, they become Bridgepoint employees so they can make the calls and send qualified people to Ashford. This changes the ratio of Ashford employees so that the emphasis on retention looks better when there are less cold-callers. By eliminating the “admissions counselor” position, this allows Ashford to do myriad things: One, eliminate employees to save the future payroll to either pay off existing lawsuit settlements or invest in other areas; two, allow room to negotiate lower salaries for new hires after the layoff; and three, it allows them to just plain get rid of people en masse.

Honestly, I hope Ashford does not earn their accreditation. With a corporate infrastructure as bad as theirs, they do not deserve to realize success.

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avatar Dave Rice September 28, 2012 at 10:45 pm

“If you don’t complete a training you could be terminated? How ethical…”

This probably isn’t one of the ethical arguments I’d pose against Bridgepoint/Ashford. The content of those training sessions might be another matter, but if my auto mechanic has to attend a training session on how to identify a part on my car that’s subject to recall, for example, I wouldn’t fault the dealership for forcing that knowledge on the guy responsible for keeping my ride safe.

On calling out the “admissions counselors” as basically fancy-titled telemarketers, though, I think you nailed it.

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avatar Former AC December 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I worked for these clowns & they will write you up on arbitrary crap that doesnt make sense just to create a paper trail on you (in case they want to terminate you)!!

I think that EXPOSURE is what will put them in their place.

Write a detailed letter to Senator Tom Harkin (use his washington address in c/o HELP Committee)….also write to Ralph Wolff (VP of WASC)….and to their investors.

AND! Most of all contact HLC *asap* & submit a complaint before the end of the year, 2012.
They will be holding a meeting with their board/committee in Jan/Feb to see if they want to continue their accreditation with Ashford.

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avatar AC from Hell December 11, 2012 at 5:54 pm

If they took the severance pay & signed an agreement right there on the spot (whereby not allowing the employees to read the agreement, but needed the money) then they can probably fight Ass-ford on the basis that they signed the agreement “under duress” due to economic loss & that might make the agreement void.
Verify that with an attorney

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avatar Gk March 9, 2013 at 11:12 am

I was also a former employee of Ashford University.

I was employed there for 1 1/2 years and had a very good track record, winning a “diamond” award for enrolling a record amount of graduate students in a single month.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Boiler Room” then you understand the culture at Ashford. My manager called potential students “victims,” and told me to do what ever it took to get people enrolled, “by hook or by crook.”

I didn’t do that. I was honest with the students I enrolled, many of whom were military. I told them the positives and the negatives, and always followed legal and ethical guidelines.

For this reason, I was made a fool of by my manager, who humiliated me in front of my team-mates. The management is only concerned with one thing at Ashford; the bottom line. It’s all about money, and not about the students welfare.

We didn’t really realize it, but the students were being approved for students loans and starting classes even before any student loan money came in. So if they failed their first class, they no longer qualified for the student loan money, and would have to pay out of pocket. Sometimes people would later be denied student loans after they had already started classes, and then have to pay out of pocket.

But you know, managers said it’s not our problem…

Enrollment advisors would lie about teacher’s certification, would bend the truth, or would neglect to inform that a teacher’s certification was in fact not available. Nor would the degree qualify as education toward a teacher’s certification. So when students found out their degree was worthless after having devoted months and months of work, and thousands and thousands of dollars, they were pissed.

The pressure to enroll students was unbelievable. If you didn’t meet a weekly standard, you were treated like a criminal, and often put down in front of your team. We were often told to “drink the kool aid”, or else we’d be “walked out.”

I witness a great number of high quality employees, I’m talking good people who cared for the students, get humiliated and “walked out” (code for got fired).

I was a great employee. I always came to work, I always met expectations in enrollment. And I was eventually fired for my Ethics. I asked too many questions, and I held the management accountable for their behavior, even reporting them to human resources.
When they fired me they didn’t say why, they just handed me a check and walked me out.

I HATE ASHFORD. And I hope they fail, and I hope their officers go to prison for their unethical business practices.

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avatar Anonymous May 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I totally agree with you. I was an employee for over 3 years. Is there a forum or organized group of former employees who are working together to 1 Get the word out 2. Provide documentation to accreditating agencies 3 See if we have any financial recourse or can find out about severance, etc.?
I know we signed a contract, but there should be some recourse.

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avatar Ashford Employee March 21, 2013 at 3:14 am

I have to disagree with all the bad publicity surrounding Ashford University. Every company has unethical people and though it doesn’t make it right, it is a continuous process to identify those individuals and get rid of them. This letter by this employee is inaccurate. There were never numbers given in training to meet company expectations, the layoff meeting never explained any details of new positions, and Ashford did do it in attempt to focus more on student services. Yes it is a business and someone would be ignorant to think “non-profit” schools don’t do the same type of recruitment. I’m a student as well and I am getting high-quality education. I am not saying it was right to do a layoff but that is part of employment. They have actually rehired a lot of people who were laid off as they are building their new model. Most of our work now focuses on student retention and graduation. Numbers were important in the past and still are for survival, but it’s a whole company obligation to help every student possible. I have a majority of my students, students that never thought or wanted to go back, tell me I changed their life. The pressure we give us not just to enroll but because the type of students we work with need it. They need a non-traditional way of going to school and a counselor to be on top of their progress or they would have done so. I will stop here but for everyone reading the negative stories, please stop and realize so much good has come out of Ashford. I am thankful to have discovered Ashford University and look forward to its growth.

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avatar LuLu May 28, 2014 at 3:53 pm

I have to say that as someone who taught for them for a couple of years, these stories are SO accurate. It is virtually impossible to fail a student with the rubric they provide. They leave students in the course even when they have done no work and are holding a zero and make the coursework so benign that it is virtually impossible to flunk. It’s a very sad situation. I got axed when they stopped using the team method of teaching and no longer used teaching assistants. I needed the money and always did my job to the best of my ability, but I can’t say I didn’t feel a little dirty doing it.

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avatar Former AC March 23, 2013 at 10:45 pm

To “ASHFORD EMPLOYEE”:

The bad publicity surrounding Ashford is VERY ACCURATE. While it is true that they did not discuss “numbers” in training, there was a quota requirement that we had to sign, **before Aug. 1 2012**, stating that we had to start 4 students per month & have 4 referrals as well. So, it IS a numbers-driven, quota-based COMPANY which constantly pressured us to enroll anybody who could breathe – in fact, we were told to enroll them the same day if possible because management felt that if we did not, then another school might call them and enroll them instead.

The reason why there were layoffs last July 2012 was to get rid of the “bottom 10%”. Okay, so when you assign a NUMBER, such as 10%, I think that translates to the “bottom 10% who could not enroll students”.
How do I know? The people who were let go in July 2012 were not enrolling. Also, managers of failing teams got axed too.

As for high quality education, what are you comparing Ashford against? A kindergarten school?! The way the managers conducted themselves, it was just like a daycare center.
I knew of one co-worker attending Ashford (for free) and stated that he could not believe how badly his fellow students spelled and some were unable to write a simple paragraph correctly. (which validates why employees got free education through that school! It should be free cuz that is what it’s worth.)

The reason why Ashford had to layoff AC’s in the latter part of 2012 was because HLC and WASC read them the riot act about being too focused on recruitment/marketing & not enough student support. Read the WASC denial letter – it is one of the bulleted items! That place was too busy money-grubbing to care about those poor students!!! So who are you trying to kid?

Ultimately, they were FORCED to do the right thing by changing their business model to resemble a REAL SCHOOL, instead of a diploma mill.

They were not making changes out of the goodness of their hearts, that is for sure!

The fact that Ashford hired so many people over the past year, promising growth opportunities, then turning around and laying AC’s off 6 months later was a dishonest, greedy, unresponsible way to run a business.

Worse yet, their management are a bunch of pompous punks. I cannot wait to see their a$$es handed to them by HLC and WASC this year. One can only hope.

It is time that current Ashford employees wake up and get over their little “Stockholm Syndrome”.

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avatar Anonymous May 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Are there any grounds for a class action lawsuit? Does anyone know? Any ideas?

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avatar JMC March 26, 2013 at 11:08 am

Apparently, it’s not any better for teachers at Ashford. I was hired as an associate faculty member in 2007. I was assigned two classes per month fairly consistently and got good reviews from my students. I should also add that I’ve been a K12 teacher for 13 years and credentialed as a teacher and administrator in the state of California and have a masters degree in education, all of which helped me deliver quality instruction to my students at AU. I have even received bonuses for the number of classes taught with high reviews!
Since the recent failure to gain accreditation, I have seen major shifts in course content resulting in unfinished versions of classes being pushed out to students. As an instructor, I’m told what to teach but then asked to be creative with my delivery. At the same time, I get files that contain prepared responses for student work. I expressed concern about the relevance of some course content – it seemed like busy work for students that only have five weeks to devote to a class and it was confirmed that the course was in “transition.” Forwarding student’s concerns only resulted in me getting more emails to homogenize my teaching process to better support students. No one seemed concerned that the course was useless and we were taking students’ money and time for no good reason.
Yesterday, I received an email telling me that my services are no longer needed. My faculty email account was disabled within hours so I cannot even retrieve the official end of course surveys from students to add to my portfolio. I have no doubt that eliminating part-time instructors is in hopes of gaining WASC accreditation since another issue was the ratio of full-time versus part-time staff members. However, the lack of warning, compassion and inability to get any answers is infuriating!

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avatar Financial aid advisor May 9, 2013 at 12:54 am

I was an employee of Ashford for 4 years. Starting from AC and after 4 years was escorted out as a financial aid advisor. Why? I told a student who cried to me about having no money or FAFSA funds to go to local community college ( which is more respectable). I became more human with a heart that cared for students. At first they said they’re down sizing financial aid department by 10%. Then it was the whole company. Then we found out the accreditation was on the line! One morning as usual clocked in early to prepare for hard stressful day full of fear, got a call for an early meeting down in the front lobby. Manager handed me my last check and said good luck. This is how they treat a long term employee.this company will burn in hell along with the CEO and his black Porsche 911 and BMW 750i.

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avatar former employee June 20, 2013 at 11:20 pm

OK…I have to say my piece too…I had worked for Ashford for over 5 years…I saw it all…from all sides…in the end I had my “quota” for the month and was walked out because my progression of enrollment wasn’t enough even though in that mornings meeting (where we went over our entire teams numbers for the month) I had the same as or more students than about 95% of my team for the months we were covering…that afternoon..walked out. My manager hounded me…calling me..coming to my desk and then emailing me while I was talking with a current student on the phone to see him ASAP…the walk out is humiliating…u go in the office and other managers flood Ur desk and pack up your personal belongings. This is how they treat long term employees…no regard for u whatsoever. If they don’t like u, u might as well have a target on Ur back. With all that being said many of the people who left comments worked there at different times…I saw Ashford go public and that was the start of the downward spiral…those there during “matrix” days…it was tough too but it went to complete crap after they started being traded. I think there are many ACs there that loved enrolling students, me being one of them I just hated all the BS that went with it. Maybe if they treated employees with respect and saw that the remaining employees there are completely fearful of losing their jobs things would be different. Build Ur business back on the 4 core values and let people just do their job and realize that 99.9% of the people coming to work there everyday come to truly change peoples lives and not just screw around and collect a check. Realize that all the changes have made it extremely tough to keep doing Ur job the way u want- stop micromanaging and acting like because I have one or two bad weeks that means I am not “engaged” as u would like to say…that I’m not following the core competencies…the layoffs will make it harder for admissions BC now things on the back end r going to slow down…which will lead to more write ups and more firing…its sad. I remember thinking and being told that this was going to be the last place I would put only resume…guess not.

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avatar Former TA July 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I was a TA with Ashford for 4 years. In the TA position, I graded papers and provided feedback for students’ writing. Sometimes, the classes had as many as 60 students in them, so my job was not always easy! I have two Master’s degrees, so I am highly qualified for the position. I feel like I touched many students’ lives over the 4 years that I worked in this position.
And how did Ashford show their appreciation? They sent out a generic mass email to all TAs informing us that our positions would be cut. A generic email! We were also told that our supervisors are unable to give us letters of recommendation. So we are basically screwed there.
I feel that by eliminating the TA position, Ashford is showing that it doesn’t care about students. All TAs had at least a BA in English, so the TAs knew how to write. Now, though, students will be given feedback on their papers by instructors who don’t necessarily know a thing about writing.
Oh well. What can I do?

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avatar Anonymous January 29, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I want to say what a pleasure it was working with the TA’s, and you did not get the appreciation you deserved. You always met your timelines, helped the class be successful, and supported your instructors from day one to the last day of class. I was disappointed when you were all removed, but need to feed my family and continue to teach. We miss you guys, and I hope you the very best.

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avatar LuLu May 28, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I was also a TA and agree with everything you say here EXCEPT that instructors don’t necessarily know a thing about writing. They have to have a higher degree than required for the TA position and the instructors I worked with were all pretty good, if over-worked and rushed. That’s not a fair statement in my book.

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avatar Sebastian September 23, 2013 at 8:09 am

Ashford has also resorted to the transcript for money mentality as they withhold transcripts from students who took courses, that are not even recognized by California as being accredited.

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avatar Antonio Diego June 13, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Ashford Termination Letter for Adjunct Instructors:

Dear XXXXXXXX

As stated in your contract, you were hired to teach a 5 week course and upon completion of that course, your employment automatically terminated.

Please be advised that we are no longer in need of your services.

Thank you for your service to AU.

Sincerely,

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX Ph.D. / EXECUTIVE DEAN, FORBES SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Ashford University / Technology Changes Everything

NOTE: Upon receiving the Ashford University termination letter, your email and your classroom access will be automatically shut-off within minutes. Ashford University is not a good place to work because there is no job security.

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avatar Susie June 13, 2014 at 8:23 pm

So sorry to read this. It seems like a very cold thing to do. I believe everyone comes to work to do a good job. You didn’t deserve to be treated like this. This doesn’t speak well for Ashford’s integrity and reputation in our community.
I am sure you will find a much better job, and hope that soon Ashford will only be a bad memory.

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