Winter 2020

A Way In, A Way Up

Craig Wilson, UArizona vice provost of online education, shares his story and talks about what education and access mean to him.

The University of Arizona Global Campus is a new nonprofit online university affiliated with and created by UArizona. 

“Thirty-six million Americans started college but didn’t finish,” says Craig Wilson, UArizona vice provost of online and distance education. “In the state of Arizona, that number is just over 600,000. There are actually more people who started college but didn’t finish than are actively in college now.”

UArizona Global Campus acquired the assets of Ashford University, a well-established and accredited online university that offers more than 50 associates, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs to approximately 35,000 students. By acquiring Ashford University, the new Global Campus will provide access to more underrepresented and nontraditional students. 

“We can play a larger role in helping adults across the country and in our state realize their academic goals and help their families and their communities,” Wilson says. 

Early Life 

I grew up in New York, where your ZIP code can be a determinant in your life, your pursuits, your potential. And I don’t think it’s fair. One of the things that led me to join the Marine Corps at a young age was the ability to not be bound by a set of circumstances — to be able to push myself further. It’s one of the hallmarks of the military. If you’ve got the drive and the potential, 
nothing should stop you from achieving your goals.

Getting an Education

I can’t tell you how many times I had to start and stop classes because of a military deployment or other life event. When the war broke out — I’m a Desert Storm vet — there were no online programs to speak of. Looking back, my bachelor’s degree took the longest to earn because I had to pull my credits together from multiple institutions in a way that made sense.

But if online learning programs were commonly available back then, believe you me, my journey would have been a lot shorter. All things considered, I was lucky; I worked for a great company that offered educational benefits, and had a great boss who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to complete my studies. Through that experience, I started thinking about others who might not have the same opportunity.

Online Education Professional

I got into in the online learning space in the ’90s while attending law school. I started moonlighting as an instructional designer, and was interested in the way courses were being put together for online delivery. It was rudimentary back then, but I liked the idea of being able to provide education to people who couldn’t get to a university during traditional school hours because of work, family and the like. Increasing students’ access to quality education has driven me throughout my professional life. 

As vice provost for online and distance education, I help map out pathways for learners to increase their skills and opportunities and decrease gaps with respect to wages and social mobility, because education is a great equalizer. I want to see more military members and their families have access as well as more members of the community such as our first responders and the arts community. 

Interestingly, I actually taught at Ashford University as an adjunct in 2006 or 2007. Admittedly, I was skeptical about for-profit education, and couldn’t find enough literature on how it stacked up against public education. Of course, there were negative articles, but I was curious. So, I became an adjunct and taught some business courses. 

Having taught online and being a professional in this space, I thought I was amply prepared, but had to go through a training regimen before teaching their online students. After the training was completed, the amount of support I received before I taught the class, while teaching and after the class was over was something I hadn’t seen in public education. I quickly realized the value of training faculty to teach in online learning classrooms in a very purposeful way. Ashford may have had its challenges in the past, but in my experiences as a part-time instructor there, the focus on teaching and learning left me pleasantly surprised. 

At UArizona 

On one side of the coin, we’re known worldwide for great research, with a great reputation in academia and as the flagship university of the state. Arizona Online falls squarely on that side of the coin: We turn away more than half of the people who apply, because we use the same standards as the University of Arizona for enrollment. 

Conversely, our mission as a land-grant university is about providing greater access to quality education and helping students who might not have had the opportunity to be as academically prepared as others. Through our affiliation with the Global Campus, we are able to reach out to more of these nontraditional college students, many with families. Consider this: Just because some students did not have the same opportunities as others doesn’t mean they can’t excel, and it doesn’t mean they do not have the potential to reach great heights. It’s about access and getting into the university. And, for students who are academically prepared, Arizona Online continues to be their path. 

Succinctly put, a highlight of having both Arizona Online and Global Campus as online learning options is that, regardless of your background, there is a way in and a way up.