As it works to preserve its regional accreditation, the for-profit Ashford University has hired a prominent official from traditional higher education to help steer the process.
Ashford, which is owned by Bridgepoint Education Inc., announced on Thursday that Richard L. Pattenaude, chancellor emeritus of the University of Maine system, would be its new president. More significant, Mr. Pattenaude is chairman of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, one of the nation's six regional accrediting agencies.
Mr. Pattenaude will replace Elizabeth Tice, who became president of the college in January 2011. In contrast to Mr. Pattenaude, Ms. Tice has spent most of her career working for proprietary colleges, including Ashford and the University of Phoenix. The departing president will continue to work for the university as executive vice president for academic affairs, according to a news release.
The change comes as Ashford, which enrolls nearly 1,000 students on its Iowa campus and more than 90,000 online, is seeking to maintain its accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and also seeking approval as a candidate for accreditation from the Western Assocation of Schools and Colleges.
In July the Western Association rejected Ashford's bid to be accredited by that organization, which approves colleges on the West Coast and in Hawaii. Among the problems the association found were too little spending on instruction, an inadequate number of full-time faculty and student-support staff members, a high turnover of students, and inconsistent quality and rigor in the curriculum. The university has announced that it will not appeal that decision but instead will reapply for candidacy in October 2013.
In September the company announced that it was slashing its admissions staff and putting more employees to work in areas meant to ensure students' academic success.
Ashford has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since Bridgepoint acquired the campus, in 2005, through the purchase of the Franciscan University of the Prairies, a small Roman Catholic institution in eastern Iowa. But most of Ashford's operations take place at the company's headquarters, in San Diego.
Ashford applied to the Western Association because its location has potentially put it out of compliance with the Higher Learning Commission's "substantial presence" requirement, which says that a majority of a college's administrative and business operations must be located within the agency's 19-state region, along with at least one campus.