The president of the University of Phoenix, one of the largest for-profit universities in the country, has stepped down amid a probe into his previous role as the head of another for-profit college.
A university spokesperson confirmed to NBC News that George Burnett resigned as Phoenix’s president effective June 1, 2022. Burnett could not immediately be reached for comment.
Burnett’s departure was first reported by USA Today, which obtained documents showing the U.S. Department of Education had launched an inquiry into his tenure at the Colorado-based Westwood College. Westwood was shuttered in 2016 after multiple state and federal investigations.
The news comes as the Biden White House contemplates canceling student debt, with an emphasis on alleviating the loan burdens of for-profit school alumni. This week, the Biden administration announced it was wiping out the federal student loan debt of anyone who borrowed money to attend Corinthian Colleges. The cancellation totaled some $5.8 billion. Corinthian closed in 2015.
“While our actions today will relieve Corinthian Colleges’ victims of their burdens, the Department of Education is actively ramping up oversight to better protect today’s students from tactics and make sure that for-profit institutions — and the corporations that own them — never again get away with such abuse,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Wednesday.
The University of Phoenix has experienced its own run-ins with federal regulators. In 2019, it paid a $200 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over accusations it had falsely claimed to have partnerships with large tech companies that would lead to job opportunities for its students.
Today, the University of Phoenix has about 75,000 attendees, down significantly from its peak of 470,000 in 2010. That comes amid a broader decline in for-profit colleges. According to data compiled by the Business Journals, there were 377 four-year for-profit secondary schools in 2020, the most recent year for which data were available — compared with 744 in 2016.