While Arizona’s public universities scramble to deal with an impending flood of students over the next 15 years, private institutions eagerly await the overflow.
"There is a quiet, thriving market operating beautifully under the radar," said Vicki E. J. Murray, a higher education analyst with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative Phoenix-based think tank. "They are filling a need that our public institutions are trying to meet."
Arizona has 12 private colleges, universities and technical schools. Some offer working students an alternative to attending one of the three public universities.
Student enrollment at these institutions has risen 68 percent since 1970 to 78,305 fulland part-time students in 2003. Overall, private schools cater to 20 percent of the higher education market. Total enrollment at Arizona’s three public universities in 2003 was 115,464.
The Arizona Board of Regents is undertaking a redesign of the public university system to accommodate 170,000 students in the next 15 years. The state’s private institutions of higher education can help absorb some of that growth, Murray said.
Recognizing the growth in the 18- to 24-year-old market, the Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix, recently announced it would lower its age requirement from 21 to 18.
"The focus of the University of Phoenix is still working adults," said Kathy Alexander, vice president of Arizona campuses. "We realized that many young students in colleges and universities all of a sudden look like their older counterparts."
Axia College, another creation of the Apollo Group, opened its Mesa campus in March to traditional collegeage students. Axia, which means "value" in Greek, offers students a bachelor’s degree in business. The model combines online learning with face-to-face time in the classroom.
DeVry Institute of Technology, with campuses in Scottsdale and Mesa, has expanded weekend and evening courses, said Jerry Murphy, senior vice president of campus operations.
A selection of schools
The East Valley is home to several private colleges, universities, and technical schools:
• Axia College, business
• University of Phoenix, general studies
• Western International University, business and technology
• DeVry Institute of Technology, business and technology
• Ottawa University, general studies
• Grand Canyon University
• Southwestern University
• Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
• Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture
• Keller Graduate School of Management
• Midwestern University (health professions)
• Thunderbird, the Garvin School of International Management