Four months after University of Akron President Scott Scarborough announced his goal of creating a national network of satellite campuses, rumors around Akron are swirling over a potential tie-up with embattled for-profit college, ITT Technical Institute, which is under federal scrutiny for alleged fraud.
Also lending credence to the rumors is University of Akron’s stated move from being a general liberal arts university to a technical school. The name of the school was officially changed last year to include the tagline, “Ohio’s Polytechnic University.” It is generally believed the university intends to fully change the name to Ohio Tech, or something of the sort. It was during Scarborough’s Oct. 20 State of the University address that he told his audience that University of Akron needs to expand and take on a national reach if it is to survive.
It would appear that taking over ITT’s network of technical schools would achieve both ends, and the company appears ripe for a buyout. Shares in the company traded at $125 in 2007, but have since plummeted, trading for around $2.50 today. ITT Technical Institutes are located in 38 states, and the company claims over 45,000 students. The for-profit chain charges tuition of between $426 and $529 per credit hour, according to its website.
In January, Akron magazine, “The Devil Strip,” confirmed the university is in talks with consulting and investing firm, Higher Education Partners to help the university become a national technical school. HEP is a Rhode Island-based company that provides or helps to procure capital funding for colleges and university projects.
“The Devil Strip” first reported on the ITT rumors two weeks ago, and yesterday the “Akron Beacon Journal” wrote about the secrecy surrounding the university’s potential partnership with ITT. University officials refuse to confirm or deny the existence of any talks with ITT, and individuals at the school who have knowledge of the existence of such talks were required to sign non-disclosure agreements concerning them.
Nicole Elam, vice president of ITT Educational Services, Inc. refused to answer questions. In an email, she wrote, “We do not respond to rumors about our business or comment on business transactions that we may or may not be contemplating. That said, as with most organizations and as a normal part of our operations, we regularly explore opportunities that we believe could benefit our organization. However, we have nothing to report today on that front.” University officials did not respond to questions about the need for secrecy.
The move to remake University of Akron into a technical school, along with spending decisions that included a nearly $1 million renovation of the presidential mansion, met wide resistance and sparked campus wide protests, with calls for university leaders to be ousted. School officials have stated there is no plan to further change the university’s name. However, slides used by university leaders in various presentations and published in media outlets show architectural renderings of buildings that display the name, The Ohio Tech University.
ITT recently settled a series of lawsuits brought by shareholders that charged ITT with various securities law violations. In addition, ITT is being sued by a former dean who alleges he was fired for reporting fraud and abuse. The lawsuit, recently unsealed, accuses ITT of operating a scheme to defraud the government through deceptive practices to enroll students.