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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pioneering College for Adults Struggles in Middle Age | Inside Higher Ed

Doug Lederman, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed notes, "Excelsior College, founded to help adults complete degrees online, staggers after curtailing its biggest program over quality concerns. Administrators say "repositioning" is working, but a more competitive market awaits."

Photo: Inside Higher Ed
As it headed into the 2016 academic year, Excelsior College looked to be on a roll. Revenue from student enrollments and the exam services provided by the private nonprofit institution had risen by roughly $10 million in each of the previous two years, and its budget setters assumed similar growth from 2015 to 2016.

After all, demand for the one academic program overwhelmingly responsible for the budget increases -- the associate degree in nursing program, which accounted for nearly half of Excelsior's students -- showed no signs of fading amid a tight nursing job market.

But the college's leaders knew better: all was not well with the nursing program, which enrolled degree-seeking students who were already registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. Although enrollment of full-paying students continued to boom, topping out around 21,000 in 2016, their outcomes were increasingly a bust. Just one in six of the enrollees -- many of them minority women -- earned a degree.

"When you are enrolling people who are not going to be able to complete, you are setting them up for debt they can’t repay or spending money and getting no degree in return for that," James Baldwin, Excelsior's president since 2016, told a group of employees last month. (A two-hour recording of the conversation, for a time publicly available on an Excelsior webpage, offered an unusually honest glimpse into the college's internal conversations.)

With regulatory scrutiny of poorly performing for-profit colleges intensifying at the time, Excelsior officials felt what Baldwin called "a very significant vulnerability" in the associate nursing program. "They could easily have looked at the ADN program," Baldwin said in that April meeting. That program had also been the subject of litigation by unhappy former students...

History and Context
Excelsior was founded in 1971 by the New York Board of Regents (with funding from the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation) to focus on adult learners, long before most colleges paid attention to those students. Operating first as Regents External Degree Program and then Regents College as part of the State University of New York, it was among a small stable of nontraditional institutions (Thomas Edison State University, Charter Oak State College, Empire State College, the University of Maryland University College) that served primarily military service members, working adults and others. It became an independent nonprofit college in 1998 and changed its name to Excelsior in 2001.

Source: Inside Higher Ed