UA expanding presence here with online program - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

UA expanding presence here with online program

February 16th, 2022 development
UA expanding presence here with online program

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

The University of Arizona is expanding its presence in Chandler by opening up an online school across from City Hall.

School officials, including President Robert Robbins, were on hand last week for the grand opening of the University of Arizona Global Campus, which has more than 28,000 students enrolled for online classes.

The school will have about 80 employees working out of a Chandler office, mostly administrators and technical support workers, but possibly some teachers as well, UAGC President Paul Pastorek said.

“Some of the teachers who lead other teachers will be housed here,” Pastorek said. “It’s administrative in nature, our technical operations will be here in Chandler as well.”

UA began offering undergraduate courses in Chandler in the fall of 2018 as part of its 2+2 program, which allowed students to attend community college for two years then finish up their bachelor’s degree with two years at a location near them. UA holds its Chandler classes at the city’s community center.

For now, UAGC is an independent institution that is affiliated with the University of Arizona. However, Robbins, the UA president, has said he wants to bring it into the university officially and has begun that process.

That decision has been controversial. Professors at the Tucson school raised objections as a Faculty Senate meeting. UA bought the Global Campus school from Ashford University, which had a dubious record as a for-profit business.

The California attorney general filed a 2017 lawsuit against Ashford and its parent company Zovio, saying it engaged in false advertising and illegal business activity. The lawsuit claims they misled students to get them to enroll and then used illegal debt collection practices to get them to pay their bills.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the University of Arizona purchased Ashford University for $1 in December of 2020.

However, as part of the agreement, UAGC will use Zovio for recruiting, financial aid, counseling, institutional support, information technology and academic support services. Zovio will get paid for that work plus get about a fifth of the school’s tuition and fee revenue.

Gail Burd, UA’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, teaching and learning and distinguished professor in molecular and cellular biology, said she’s not worried about Ashford’s woes.

“The agreement that we have, all those liabilities fall onto the OPM, and not on to Ashford, or the University of Arizona Global Campus, or the University of Arizona,” Burd said. “Those liabilities are not our concern.”

UAGC is currently certified. However, the certification body, Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission, placed a notice of concern on its accreditation status – meaning it is in danger of being found out of compliance.

“We have had to focus on making sure, most importantly, that we are being responsible with students,” said Pastorek. “And we are being responsible to them in every domain: When we market to them, when we enroll them, when we educate them and when we graduate them.

“We have made it our No. 1 mantra in our organization over the last year since we took over the operations of Ashford University that we would be different, it would be a new day, that there would be a student-centered, student-focused approach. I can’t speak to what happened before, but my job is to make sure that every day that every person who works on behalf of the university is student-centered, student-focused and doing it for the right reasons.”

If UA does eventually welcome in the Global Campus as an official part of its organization, it would have two different online schools. Its Arizona Online was ranked No. 7 in the nation by the U.S. News and World Report and has more than 6,000 students.

Burd said they haven’t quite figured out how they will handle two different online schools should Global Campus officially become part of UA.

“First, we need to research,” she said. “We need to figure out what other institutions have done that have worked, and decide for our institution what’s the best  answer.”

She pointed to Purdue adding online school Kaplan as an example. That become Purdue Global and that deal is very close to the same one UA made with Zovio. Kaplan provides many of the services to Purdue that Zovio does to UA, and also gets a slice of the tuition.

Purdue did not offer any online education prior to its deal with Kaplan. However, Burd said they started to do so after and kept them separate.

“That’s a model that looks attractive to me, so I want explore that, but others too.”

Burd said that Kaplan had many of the same image problems that Ashford had when Purdue took it over.

And she said they may ultimately decide to keep their online school separate instead of merging them, because they serve different audiences.

“They’re two different missions,” Burd said. “These students, this faculty, have a very different mission, job, and approach than what we have at the University of Arizona. The University of Arizona primarily takes in 18-year-olds, there’s an online program that is very highly ranked … I think we can learn from each other and support each other.”

Pastorek agreed.

“We serve really different kinds of communities,” he said. “We serve different kinds of programs right now. With the announcement we’re moving into the University of Arizona, we’re exploring just how we will be partners. We will be partners, whether we will be merged or not is yet to be decided.”