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A Thought or Two about Classifications

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As Congress and President Obama continue to seek ways to improve the post-secondary degree attainment of our population, I suggest adding to or modifying the classifications commonly used in higher education reports, regulations, and statistics.

My first suggestion is that, in the case of most classifications, the term “for-profit” be removed as a separate distinction. This term refers to corporate structure and institutional governance, neither of which is of particular relevance in describing contemporary American higher education. Also, and unfortunately, the pejorative innuendo and labeling associated with the term are not warranted or representative of the academic quality and educational impact associated with many for-profit institutions; moreover, the term does not provide a meaningful form of differentiation between institutional types.

“Private” refers to non-public institutions, and that term works for me. If someone is looking for a more distinct separation between the private, non-profit and the private, for-profit, I suggest that we use the terms “private, taxpayer subsidized” institution, as differentiated from “private, tax-paying” institution. It is noteworthy that tax-paying institutions increasingly appear more effective at responding to the educational needs of underserved and often overlooked populations than many taxpayer subsidized institutions, particularly when considering that the latter have a competitive edge in that they do not pay taxes on most or all of their operating income, or on income generated from investments in their endowment funds.

The other classification that I would like to propose is “adult-serving institution.” This classification would be applicable regardless of whether an institution is a two year college, a baccalaureate degree granting institution, masters degree granting institution, or a doctoral degree granting institution. The current, standard definition of college students was crafted with the traditional, 18 to 22-year-old individual in mind. As the numbers increase of adults returning to college seeking a first-time degree or additional credentials, the time available to them necessary to complete the degree exceeds traditional norms and expectations. An adult-serving institution should be measured on the percentage of its students who achieve their stated goals, be that certificate completion or degree attainment. How long it takes them to complete their goal is irrelevant compared with the typical expectations of and resources available to traditional, full-time students.

Lastly, open enrollment is an admissions policy that over half of all American colleges embrace. It usually pertains to institutions that accept everyone who meets a certain minimum standard, such as graduation from high school. SAT’s, ACT’s, and GPA’s are usually not considered for admission. Many, but not all, adult-serving institutions have open enrollment policies. There are many studies of student retention in higher education that demonstrate that the more selective a school is in its admissions standards, the higher its graduation rate. These studies also demonstrate the corollary – that is, the lower the selectivity, the lower the graduation rate. Studies typically rely on averages, and not all institutions are the same, just as not all students are the same. Our institution has had an open enrollment policy for all of our undergraduate programs since its founding. We maintain that policy, while at the same time embracing the objective of working with all of our students to achieve their individual goals, whether it be certificate, degree attainment, personal growth, or preparation for transfer to another institution.  Since many adult-serving institutions are open-enrollment, I propose that those with selective admissions policies be labeled as “selective,” thus making it possible to group adult-serving institutions according to their respective missions, and to measure their effectiveness against comparable institutions.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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