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September 12, 2005

Fact for the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The largest university in America must be one of those gigantic State U.'s, right? Iowa, Florida, maybe Nevada. Huge places, funded by government money, located where land is cheap, and awash in herds of eager 18-22 year olds.

In fact, reports The Economist, the U.S.'s biggest university has 239 separate campuses and 280,000 students. It's the for-profit University of Phoenix, where working adults make up 95% of the students.

Interesting as well to learn that, big as it is, the U. of P. is dwarfed in size by a school in Turkey: Anadolu University, which enrolls 530,000 students.



posted by Michael at September 12, 2005


Allow me to quote from a page of the website of Anadolu University, under the heading Administration:

"Why Anadolu University?


Experienced and Knowledgeable Academic Staff
More than 1600 teaching staff and some visiting professors, all experienced and knowledgeable in national and international arenas, carry out courses at Anadolu University with great enthusiasm.


Quality Student Profile
Each year, more than 5000 students register at Anadolu University. More than half of this population consists of the students who are graduates of high schools in big cities such as Ankara, İstanbul, Eskişehir, İzmir, Bursa and Antalya .


Taking your number of 530,000 students at face value gives a student to teaching staff ratio of 331╝ to one, and an average length of enrollment per student of 106 years. How can this be?

There may have been a similar problem in translation when a television travel program gave the enrollment of a medieval university in Timbuktu as 50,000, a number which has been repeated elsewhere. Maybe that was the total number of graduates of Koranic schools there over the centuries, or the population of the city, which was 50,000 at the end of the 15th century, according to a New York Times article dated April 24, 2004.

Googling up a report from Dr. Ali Ekrem Ízkul, of the Open Education Faculty, I see that Anadolu University was the only higher education correspondence school in Turkey, and its computer center administered exams to 517,448 students in classrooms across Turkey in the 1998-1999 school year. He gives a figure of 636,000 total students, which includes about 116,000 "passive students," those not registered in the current school year.

That fact morphs into the following: "In 1998-1999, 650,000 students were participating in 18 different programs at Turkey's Anadolu University. At that time the World Bank recognized Anadolu as the world's largest university." (Distance Education Report, February 15, 2002)

Thus the legend of the world's largest university, once located conveniently in Timbuktu, but now mysteriously remotely in Turkey, grows.

Posted by: Sonny on September 12, 2005 5:53 AM

Talk about being a small fish in a big pond...

Posted by: Jill on September 12, 2005 6:07 AM

As online- and distance-learning become more and more and more widespread, it'll be interesting to follow how enrollment numbers are tallied up. I wonder how the U of P tallies up their numbers -- hard to imagine many of their students are fulltime. And I wonder what MIT, Cambridge, etc will do -- will they continue to restrict the numbers of their students? Or will they be unable to resist capitalizing on the brand, and take on loads of part-timers and distance-learners?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 12, 2005 8:15 AM

One thing I don't know is whether employers treat University of Phoenix degrees as "real" degrees. I suspect that by and large they don't, but it would be interesting to know for sure.

Posted by: Peter on September 12, 2005 11:20 AM

The University of Phoenix has also been fined ten million dollars for their creepy practices.

Posted by: Neil on September 12, 2005 1:46 PM

I hear Bovine University has millions of matriculates.

Posted by: Maxim Gorky on September 13, 2005 6:21 PM

At a conference I attended six-ish years ago, some guy spoke and said that more post-high-school education is already being done these days via non-traditional routes (distance learning, U of P, on-the-job-training, etc) than via traditional colleges, and that trends are very much in the direction of this becoming more and more the case. No idea whether he was being accurate, or even how you'd measure these things. And no doubt he had an agenda. Still, there may be a kernel of factual truth in what he was saying, which was that the traditional four-year-degree experience is becoming less and less the standard thing, and less and less necessary in many ways...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 13, 2005 7:46 PM

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