University of Phoenix tries to grow some ivy

Steve Estey searches for job opportunities at a veteran's job fair being held at the University of Phoenix on June 21, 2012 in Schaumburg, Illinois.

The country’s largest for-profit college is hoping a little Ivy League sheen will rub off on it. The University of Phoenix is launching a new course taught by star academics from the likes of Harvard Business School. It’s part of a bigger effort to retool its struggling brand.

The new six-week online course will be taught by three big names in the field of innovation, including Harvard’s Clayton Christensen.

“A big trend in higher education now is branding and building the image,” says Donald Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “I’m sure the University of Phoenix is looking to gain the advantage of the Harvard Business School name.”

The Phoenix image has been a bit battered lately. For-profit colleges have been criticized for aggressive recruiting, high tuition and low graduation rates. Enrollment at the University of Phoenix has fallen almost 30-percent in the last three years and stock in its parent company has cratered.

“What we are doing is repositioning the University of Phoenix,” says chief business operating officer Barry Feierstein. The innovation course is the university’s first foray into high-end professional development, he says. It will be distributed to corporations and offers no credit. Feierstein also says the university is working more closely with employers to help graduates of its degree programs land jobs.

“All those things that they’re doing I think will improve their reputation,” says Corey Greendale with First Analysis. “It just takes some time.”

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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