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In less than three years, UA Online earns national recognition

October 12, 2017
UA Online offers take-home lab kits.

The University of Arizona’s college campus is built on years of stellar program rankings, ground-breaking research and other achievements. In 2014 the university started the journey of leveraging its 135-plus years of excellence to establish UA Online , which offers degrees that can be earned completely through web-based courses.

Today, UA Online offers more than 80 degree options (including the nation’s first B.A. in law) and has established itself in the top 25 percent nationally for undergraduate online programs, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“We were able to merge the best online consumer practices with our existing world-class academics,” said Vincent Del Casino, vice president of Academic Initiatives & Student Success at the UA. “Now we’re setting new standards in online education, and we’re doing it faster than anyone.”

Bridging the campus and the web

Online programs can be challenging to navigate for some, so the UA’s Office of Digital Learning knew it was important for UA Online students to have access to campus professors and others who could help navigate the web class experience.

So, from a student’s first phone call all the way to commencement, UA Online offers support with an in-house student success team that can help with the online courses, provide academic counseling and answer questions. In addition, the same distinguished professors from UA’s main campus teach every UA Online class.

“It’s important for online students to feel like they are part of the greater UA community,” noted Joshua Steele, senior director of UA Online. “That’s a key factor when we’re designing new programs and online courses.”

The philosophy has worked well. UA Online has seen term-over-term retention of 80 percent and year-over-year online student growth of 280 percent.

UA Online took other bold strides in connecting established campus programs and curriculum to the online experience. For example, it built the one-of-a-kind Science Academy, which gives students in science, technology, engineering and math programs access to take-home lab kits and other revolutionary ways to complete STEM courses online.

UA Online also launched “Orbital Perspectives,” an open online course taught by astronaut Ron Garan. The course was created after the successful UA-involved ORISIS-REx mission, where astronauts returned asteroid samples to the Earth.

UA Online students also have access to the University of Arizona’s Blue Chip Leadership program, which is nationally recognized and helps students engage with the campus and meet like-minded academic peers, all with the goal of developing leadership qualities.

Representing all students

UA Online is committed to constantly refining and improving programs, Del Casino adds. To do so, program leaders must understand how to best serve a wide range of learners.

Today, UA Online serves students from 46 states; 46 percent of students live outside Arizona, 42 percent come from traditionally under-represented communities, and 70 percent are working adults.

“We’re always looking toward tomorrow,” Del Casino said. “And that tomorrow will be shaped by the students of today.”

While these figures are a great start, Del Casino wants more data. Given that so many of the students are working adults, he says, UA Online developers must become students of their own student population.

“We want to hear from them and learn their stories,” he added. “So, we talk to them, we meet them at work, and we’ve formed key corporate sponsorships to provide amazing benefits.”

To learn about the more than 80 online degree programs the University of Arizona has to offer, visit the UA Online website .

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