University of Arkansas trustees narrowly reject bid to affiliate with University of Phoenix

A billboard for the University of Phoenix (top) and a snow-covered sign for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville are shown in these file photos. The billboard is shown in Chandler, Ariz., on Nov. 24, 2009, while the Arkansas sign is shown at the Fred W. Smith Football Center on the school's Fayetteville campus on Dec. 6, 2013. (Top, AP/Matt York; bottom, NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
A billboard for the University of Phoenix (top) and a snow-covered sign for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville are shown in these file photos. The billboard is shown in Chandler, Ariz., on Nov. 24, 2009, while the Arkansas sign is shown at the Fred W. Smith Football Center on the school's Fayetteville campus on Dec. 6, 2013. (Top, AP/Matt York; bottom, NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

The University of Arkansas System board of trustees declined to give their blessing to a potential affiliation with the University of Phoenix during a special Zoom meeting Monday, albeit with a narrow majority with five members voting against the proposal, four voting in favor and trustee Kelly Eichler abstaining.

Chairman Morril Harriman, Vice Chairman Sheffield Nelson, and trustees Tommy Boyer, Steve Cox and Kevin Crass voted against the resolution supporting an affiliation between Transformative Education Services (TES) Inc. — which has been seeking to purchase the University of Phoenix — and the University of Arkansas System. Trustees Ted Dickey, Ed Fryar, Col. Nate Todd and Jeremy Wilson supported the move.

Eichler abstained, which Harriman said was her decision, and did not speak about the affiliation Monday. However, she expressed support for the partnership that was poised to provide an estimated $20 million annually to the UA System during a special meeting last week.

Under the proposal, Arkansas nonprofit Transformative Education Services would purchase Phoenix — estimates are that price could be around $500 million — and the UA System would enter into an affiliation and licensing agreement with Phoenix that would’ve provided revenue to the system.

The system also would have had the opportunity to access technology, content and course management and data analytics used by Phoenix. In return, Phoenix would’ have gained an affiliation with the system and transitioned from for-profit to nonprofit status.

Phoenix reached out to the UA System roughly two years ago, starting this exploration process, said UA System President Donald Bobbitt.

Bobbitt said that for millions of Americans, including some 300,000 in Arkansas, with some college but no degree, the traditional college model “won’t cut it, [so] you need a university specifically designed” for them, like Phoenix. There’d be several benefits to both parties. The UA System would receive $20 million annually that the board of trustees would control and acquire a national brand with “world-class course designers.”

Phoenix also builds exceptional “Student information and content management systems,” Bobbitt said. “We want the best — state-of-the-art — and if TES is able to offer that through Phoenix, we want first shot at it.