- Slides: 8
Using FOIA to connect the dots MICHAEL VASQUEZ THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION @MRMIKEVASQUEZ
From tip to FOIAs: dissecting a “special favor” A tip from a source that for-profit Ashford University got approval from Arizona for a location that wasn’t “real” It’s a “favor” story. WHO got the favor? HOW did they get special treatment? WHY does the favor matter? KNOW THE TERRAIN. Some state oversight agencies are controlled by the for-profit college industry Two state agencies had a say in Ashford’s approval. FOIAs sent to both Arizona agencies, requesting six months of emails from 15 different employees.
The Paper Trail… Hundreds of pages of emails A cozy relationship between Ashford and regulators Arizona’s favor for Ashford came at a crucial time
Emails from Gov. Ducey “How can we help? ” wrote the governor’s education policy to Ashford’s lobbyists. Getting an Arizona license takes 180 days – Ashford got its license in three weeks. State agency called a special meeting. Ducey’s office had checked in to make sure the application was being processed. Ducey’s office suggested Arizona members of Congress who might help Ashford.
Why does this matter? Ashford, a college with a checkered past, needed a state’s approval to service GI Bill students NATIONWIDE Company based in San Diego, but California known for tough oversight. California AG investigating Ashford at the time. Military students from GI Bill and other programs made up roughly ¼ of Ashford’s enrollment.
How do you prove a location is “fake”? Size comparison – San Diego headquarters: 11 stories, 273, 764 square feet. Phoenix, Ariz. Location: 2, 454 square feet. THAT’S THE SIZE OF…A CHIPOTLE RESTAURANT! Ashford’s history of evasive answers when asked about the new Arizona headquarters: “‘Main campus’ is a term used in a number of different legal and regulatory contexts. ”
VA raises questions – Politicians push back U. S. Senator Jeff Flake responds, accuses the VA of “federal overreach … at the expense of veterans. ” Flake’s letter is copied to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey
STORY IMPACT Under pressure, VA had approved Ashford in Arizona. Agency changes its mind after questions from The Chronicle. A rare crackdown on for-profits from the Trump Administration. VA issues Ashford a 60 -day deadline to get itself legal. Under a cloud, Ashford halts military enrollments. 9 U. S. senators send letter to the VA urging tougher action against Ashford, which they say has been engaging in a “legally dubious scheme to maintain its GI Bill eligibility. ” Ashford has sued the VA in court to keep access to GI Bill money.