University of Phoenix: One Employee’s Story

When my wife first moved down here to Ft. Lauderdale after we got married, we lived on one income: mine. We weren’t exactly making all ends meet, but we got by. About a month after she moved down here, she started working for the University of Phoenix. Little did we know it was to be one of the most painful, over-politicized, and horrible times of her life. Eight months later, we’re now finally reaching the end of her stay there. And all I can say is “Thank you, God.”

(Disclaimer: I don’t work at UOP. I’ve never worked at UOP. I don’t study, have never studied, and don’t plan on studying at UOP. After the stories I’ve heard — from numerous employees — regarding the University’s recruitment practices and utter disregard for students’ financial welfare, I don’t think I can ever recommend anyone ever go there.)

(By the way, what follows is merely a rant. If you want to get seriously good information on how the University has mistreated students and employees, check out University of Phoenix Sucks.com.)

Here’s the story: About a month after she moved to Ft. Lauderdale, my wife got a call to interview at UOP, after having slapped together an application thinking “Might as well. Worse they can say is ‘no’, right?” The advertisement for the job detailed the position of an enrollment counselor, and described a person who would be willing to assist students in their transition back into college life. My wife holds four degrees, including a Master’s degree in education and Specialist’s degree in marriage counseling. Although they were looking for school counselors — or so we thought — the requirements matched closely enough.

A day after the interview, my wife got a call that she was to start the next day. “Wow,” we thought. “They must have really liked you!” As we later found out, it had nothing to do with liking, it had to do with an incredibly high turn over rate, almost as if she would be working for some kind of call center. But come now, a call center at a University?

So, she goes in, goes through an orientation and training period which lasted about two weeks, and then was off to do her job. The problem was that her manager and trainer (I’ll call her Lona) wasn’t there about half the time, so the training was mediocre at best, just plain inadequate in reality. When she was put on the floor to work, she was told to start making calls, set appointments, and get students registered and started. Ok, we can handle that. But here was the catch: she had a quota for how many students got started per month, how many calls she had to make per day, how many appointments per week, and how many students put paid applications in.

This was sounding more and more like a sales job. But wait, no one mentioned sales, here or anywhere. Something wasn’t quite right.

So she went on with her days, doing her work as she thought she was supposed to be doing, making calls, setting appointments, getting people started. The numbers weren’t all there, but she was slowly improving. She did this for about two months. Then she was called in to Lona’s office.

“I see your numbers aren’t matching up. What’s the problem?” her manager asked.

“Well,” replied my wife, “I’m meeting with the students, and some of them are just not really interested in starting. I’m not going to force them to do something they don’t want to do.”

“But you have to get the numbers. Didn’t anyone ever tell you this was a sales job?”

“Uhm… no, actually. No one did. I thought I was a counselor, like my title, and what my job description said.”

Of course, this would explain the quotas. The problem was that neither my wife nor anyone else in her group was told that this was a sales position. My wife’s never done sales. They’re not exactly her thing. She’s never been trained for sales. Had she known it was sales, she wouldn’t have taken the position! But here she was. She might as well make the best of it, right?

Armed with a new attitude, my she began to “sell.” She saw this as a great opportunity to expand her skills set, and treated it as such. She still didn’t have any training, so she was a bit like the adventurous teen driving for the first time; she was going by what she thought she knew. This was all well and good, until her managers decided new policies should be put in place: every time a student (or rather, customer) would meet with my wife for an appointment, my wife was to call in the manager in order to help close the sale, no matter what.

The big emphasis here was on filling up certain months. If you, as the sales counselor, were meeting with a customer, and the customer wanted to sign up for a class that started next month instead of this month, you were supposed to tell the student that whatever class they were taking was not being offered that next month, regardless of whether there really was one starting or not. Often times this was because the person looking to start taking the class didn’t have enough money to pay for the class up front, and had already began to budget for next month.

But that wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter if the student had to go without electricity, miss a car payment, or miss a rent payment. The focus was on getting that sale, right there NO MATTER WHAT, which is why the manager is required to come into every appointment, and must attempt to close the sale if the student has not yet applied. This was about the time my wife began to resent her job, as well as the managers who were instituting these policies.

(From what she tells me, her particular campus now has by far the highest employee turn over rate in the company. Although they led the state in sign ups, and were some of the top in the country, the managers instituted policies independently of the university regarding forced over time and increased call quotas, in order to increase the “disappointing” numbers.)

SIDE NOTE:
Now, let’s take a little trip back in time here: when my wife started working for UOP, she had a manager (I’ll call him Ryan) whom she absolutely adored. His focus was on keeping the employees happy, and he did that rather well. His team was a tightly knit team of workers who had gained spectacular results. When Lona started working for UOP, Ryan was her manager. Lona, however, was known for putting 12 hour days, weekends, and holidays in order to ensure that she got the top results. Of course, she always expected everyone around her to have that same work ethic. (Of course, Lona gets calls weekly from her child’s school regarding disciplinary problems, fights with her husband on a regular basis, and has been seen drunk and playing “guess where my hand is” with one of her female managers in an office holiday party. But I digress…) Lona was never a big fan of Ryan’s management style. Later on, Lona was promoted to Ryan’s position once Ryan left the company. That’s when things started to go downhill, morale-wise.

As time went on, things went from bad to worse. As a punishment for low performance in the sales area, certain employees (my wife included, but not singularly) were no longer allowed to receive new leads, walk-ins, or transfers. In fact, they were taken out of the lead transfer system entirely and were forced to instead call people who had sought information from the University (and did not attend) from no later than 2003, and as far back as 2000. Her call minimum was increased from 70 outbound sales call solicitations per day to 100, and she was to set four appointments per day, no matter how late she had to stay in order to do it. Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if they were allowed to do it at differing times of day, but employees must all start at 9:00 AM and work until daily quotas are met. The problem: most people aren’t home from 9 to 6, so the bulk of their calling goes unanswered. (A previous estimate puts it at around a 5% answer rate, and a 20% appointment rate from that, so if 100 calls are made in one day, you can expect 1 appointment to be made.)

According to the University, one of their rules for admissions is that you must be employed. Classes are accommodated for the 8 to 5 worker by being run in the evening. But employees are locked in to coming in at 9:00 am and must work until at least 6:15pm, making calls. Since most people they target work during those hours, overtime is essentially mandatory in order to meet the appointment quotas. Since most people are home in the evening hours, wouldn’t it make more sense to allow employees to come in a bit later in order to stay later, instead of forcing overtime? I’m sure that’s fine with Lona, but its a problem for employees who consider family to be a higher priority. Of course, Lona can’t see that. People like that never can. They sacrifice their family to the gods of money and power, and worship in the altar of greed by stabbing anyone standing in the way in the back.

So things kept getting worse and worse after that. Morale was — and still is — dirt low, and management treats employee relations as an “Us. vs. Them” battle. Here’s an example: the sales counselors will sometimes get together to discuss work situations and see how they can improve them. When suggestions are agreed upon, they’re taken to management for consideration. (They’ve tired singly suggesting things, but management simply ignores those requests.) While meeting, if complaints or issues are aired by an employee, that employee is essentially black balled, their leads taken away, and forced to work overtime in order to make up the difference. One time, the sales counselors all agreed that coming in at later times would help their numbers, increasing their availability to students and increasing their call to appointment ratio. Management seemingly agreed to this, and passed along an email to the employees asking for what times they wanted to come in. A few weeks later management once again emailed, but this time in order to tell employees that because not everyone sent in an email, they couldn’t “fairly” allow people to stagger their times. Gotta love them flimsy pretext, right Lona?

So now, my wife’s fighting for her job. She’s been given an ultimatum to come up with a plan to increase her numbers or lose her job. The only solution, given the constraints, is to work at least 12 hours a day, every day, making at least 150 outbound phone calls per day. So yes, telemarketing. Maybe UOP could have put that in the job description. That would have saved us a lot of grief, and them a lot of money.

If you’re thinking about working for, going to, or even asking about UOP, watch out. I’m sure situations aren’t as bad as this everywhere else, but in the campus my wife works at, management is run by an extremely political set of managers who would likely fit better in a used car dealership. If you give your phone number to UOP, don’t expect the calls to stop. Ever.

I’m done ranting. I might rant on this a bit more some other time, but who knows. UOP will likely be a thing of the past soon, one way or the other.

Click here for some links on more info:

CBS 60 Minutes: For-Profit College: Costly Lesson

Bad Business Bureau

Lawmakers ask Congress to investigate school firms

If you have any experiences with UOP, good or bad, I’d like to hear them.