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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 07/26/2012

U.S. Olympic Team’s surprising school sponsor

The United States Olympic Team has more than 30 official sponsors, but only one of them is a school. And the choice says a lot about where education is heading these days.

In the past, Team USA had an arrangement with the University of
U.S. volleyball team listens to national anthem before qualification tournament match on May 8 in California. (JOE KLAMAR--AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Colorado at Colorado Springs, a branch of the public UC system, according to Patrick D. Sandusky, chief communications and public affairs officer for the United States Olympic Committee. The team is based in Colorado Springs, so team athletes were able to take classes at the school there.

But the team’s priorities changed, Sandusky said, and Olympic officials looked for a school with a national reach.

What school got the nod?

If you’ve seen the television ads, you know that it’s the for-profit DeVry University, which has an online presence as well as more more than 95 campuses in North America. Its 80,000-plus graduate and undergraduate students are working toward degrees in areas including technology, business, science, engineering, health sciences, liberal arts and the arts. Its graduation rates from state to state are low, generally between 20 and 50 percent depending on the cohort that is counted.

Sandusky did not respond to a question about whether the school’s graduation rate factored into its decision to choose DeVry.

On its website and in its ads, DeVry proudly declares itself “An Official Education Provider of the USOC,” and it features some of the Olympic athletes who attend DeVry.

Sandusky would not say how much DeVry paid to be a sponsor because such information is secret. A DeVry spokesman also declined to talk about the financial arrangements.

Some sponsors pay as much as $20 million to the Olympic Committee to be an exclusive sponsor, according to this NPR story.

The for-profit education higher education industry has come under increased federal scrutiny in the last few years, with some of the schools accused of attracting students with false promises and strong recruiting tactics and then leaving them with big debts. Many of these schools have low graduation rates and get most of their revenue from federal funds awarded to students who qualify for government grants to attend college.

The federal government last year moved to hold these schools more accountable after a U.S. General Accountability Office investigation into recruiting and marketing practices in the industry uncovered some questionable practices at a number of schools, which were not named in the report.

The Washington Post Co. owns for-profit Kaplan University.

Why DeVry? Sandusky said in an e-mail:

“We identified a need to have a partner that could provide education to our athletes all over the country and in as many ways as possible, and DeVry certainly filled that need.

“This partnership really helps the USOC with our commitment to supporting our athletes on and off the field. Our agreement with DeVry opens up some doors for our athletes that may have otherwise been closed as DeVry is geared toward serving non-traditional students and many of our athletes fall directly in that category....

“In the past the USOC have had a relationship with the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, and while a positive arrangement, it served a limited number of athletes. In our current environment, with athletes training at locations all over the U.S. and abroad, it made sense to look to a partner whose flexibility and ability to serve a great variety of students in a great number of settings is one of their most important attributes.

“Also, DeVry has a very diverse group of education providers with programs including; accounting, computer technology, nursing, high school level courses and everything in between. The degree programs are designed to match current market needs. A diploma from DeVry is a diploma from an accredited university, which is a useful first step toward employment.”

What about a public university? Sandunsky said that DeVry has exclusive rights to be an Olympic sponsor as the private-sector education provider.

“If at some point in the future we felt that a public-sector university was a good fit to partner with the USOC, we could not be precluded from partnering with a public-sector University,” he said. “However, at this point we are not in any discussions with any public-sector universities.”

The first class of Team USA athletes has already started classes through DeVry University, school officicials said, including undergraduate students Samantha Achterberg (modern pentathlon), Wilfred “BJ” Blanchard (shooting), Will Brady (modern pentathlon), Donovan Ford (weightlifting) and Aaron Trent (Paralympic cycling).

Moza Fay, a 2016 Olympic hopeful in freestyle wrestling, is earning an MBA with DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management. He said in an interview that because the program allows him to log onto classes online, he can keep up with his studies while he travels.

DeVry University was founded as the DeForest Training School in 1931 and became DeVry University, with online and campus classes, in 2008. DeVry Inc., the for-profit parent organization, also owns the Keller Graduate School of Management, American University of the Caribbean, Apollo College, Western Career College, Ross University, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Becker Professional Review and Advanced Academics, Inc.

Asked why DeVry wanted to be a sponsor of the Olympics, school Communications & Public Relations Director Donna Shaults replied in an email:

“As an official education provider of the USOC, the partnership will allow us to offer higher education opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate level to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and training hopefuls through 2016.

“In addition to providing TeamUSA athletes with an opportunity to pursue their athletic and career dreams at the same time, we hope that it will highlight DeVry University’s continued commitment to providing the highest level of quality academic instruction and the flexible scheduling necessary for anyone to balance their current commitments while earning a degree.”

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By  |  10:30 AM ET, 07/26/2012

 
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