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University of Phoenix - New Campus In Minneapolis

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University of Phoenix to build campus here

Scott D. Smith

Staff Reporter

The largest university in the country plans to open a campus in the Twin Cities this August.

The for-profit University of Phoenix, with some 186,000 students nationwide, expects to attract about 2,000 Twin Cities students to its adult education classes. Phoenix's popular blend of online and classroom courses spurred an enrollment increase of 44 percent between 2002 and 2003.

Its dual online/classroom strategy, which some experts believe is the future of adult education, makes it a tough competitor for both brick-and-mortar schools and purely online schools.

The university is seeking 30,000 square feet of space for a central campus in Minneapolis, which would include classrooms and administrative offices. Phoenix aims to fill about 40 administrative positions and 200 faculty spots.

"We've received our state approval to operate and are in the early stages of opening in Minneapolis," said Robert Paul, Midwest director for the for-profit University of Phoenix, which is owned by parent company Apollo Group Inc., based in Phoenix.

Phoenix could open as many as four local learning centers in the next five years. It already has more than 100 campuses nationwide, and is rapidly expanding.

Clicks and mortars

The University of Phoenix is also the largest online university, with about 90,000 students taking classes over the Internet.

The university is seeing its greatest success with its "FlexNet" program, which combines online and traditional classes. Paul agrees that the future of adult education is in providing this sort of a combined curriculum.

That combination of services gives the University of Phoenix an advantage over schools that do one or the other, said Trace Urdan, an analyst with ThinkEquity Partners, a San Francisco-based, research-focused investment bank.

"That's one of the biggest differences between the University of Phoenix and any local university that would have any adult education," Urdan said.

A physical presence also helps give the University of Phoenix's online courses credibility, he said. The schools usually locate near freeways and have large signs that bring the school into the consciousness of commuters, he said.

Lots of competition for adult learners

The University of Phoenix provides undergraduate and graduate degree programs exclusively for adult learners. The average student is 36 years old. The first offerings at the school will be business and information technology degrees, followed later by other programs such as education and health care.

Several universities here have grown by teaching adult learners, such as the University of St. Thomas, Metropolitan State University, Argosy University and the Minnesota School of Business and Globe College. Capella University, which is an exclusively online university based in Minneapolis, also targets adult learners.

Leaders of local schools are confident they can compete well against the University of Phoenix.

"When they enter a market, they tend to be successful," said Paul Schroeder, senior vice president of Capella Education Co. But their presence in the Twin Cities shouldn't have a significant impact on Capella, he said, because its students are distributed across the nation. Capella's enrollment of about 8,500 students in the fall of 2003 was a 52 percent increase over the previous year.

The University of Phoenix won't siphon off St. Thomas students because the St. Thomas curriculum is more of a blend of theory and practice, said Christopher Puto, dean of the St. Thomas business school.

"But I do think it's a direct shot across the bow at Metropolitan State University," he said, since both schools offer flexible programs where students can gather credits over a more open-ended period of time.

Offering supplemental online courses does provide a competitive advantage, said Wilson Bradshaw, president of Metropolitan State. But he's confident his institution can compete with the University of Phoenix because it is already offering some courses online and is moving quickly to offer more. "I'm very confident that Metropolitan State and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are positioned to compete."

The University of Phoenix finds its presence tends to increase enrollment across the board, Paul said. Its advertising campaigns raise awareness about adult education and prompt new students to attend school, he said. "We just add to the dialogue for the need of working adults to return to school."

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Yeah, I've seen their online ads. But why would they name themselves after a city still if they're pretty much national/international?

I'm guessing it is because they started out in Phoenix. If that's not the reason, then I have no idea.

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