In 1998, Brian Mueller, a rising regional manager at the University of Phoenix, was called back to the corporate headquarters. Senior leaders had heard about “the information superhighway” and wanted Mueller to help figure out how the university could use it to apply their learning model. Brian hired some smart technologists who built the infrastructure, while he focused on how to make the instructor-led, small class size, critical thinking focused model work when the classroom became virtual. Even 20 years ago, the technology waves were rising.
Students rapidly embraced the new approach, so much so that Phoenix had to go to Wall Street to raise capital to build out the technology infrastructure. By 2003, the University of Phoenix had 200,000 online students. Mueller was asked to step up from being CEO of Phoenix Online to being President of the University of Phoenix’s parent company.
While the University of Phoenix Online was thriving, another university in the city of Phoenix was struggling. Founded in 1949, the 2000s had not been kind to Grand Canyon University, with enrollment dropping below 1,000. In 2008, GCU reached out to Brian Mueller, asking him to step in as president.
Mueller prayerfully considered the opportunity. A graduate of Concordia College (now University), he had spent the early years of his career teaching theology and history and coaching basketball in Christian schools. He loved and had missed Christian education. As he told me, “maybe this was God’s plan all along.”
Mueller saw the opportunity to leverage technology to make a quality Christian education accessible to many more families. He thought: “What if we could make Christian higher-ed more affordable than a state university? How would God use that?”
He brought the core of the Phoenix technology team with him, but building the modern infrastructure capable of riding the changing technology waves would take money that Grand Canyon didn’t have. So, Mueller went back to Wall Street. Remember, in 2008, the stock market was suffering through a global recession. There had not been an initial public offering (IPO) by any company in 90 days, much less any fund raising by struggling Christian schools. But the analysts and buyers remembered how well investments in Phoenix had paid off.