This time of the year offers many opportunities for personal reflection. For those of us raised in the Judeo-Christian faiths, the celebration of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the birth of Jesus are events that mark centuries of traditions and religious faith. For people of these and other faiths, the end of the year and the beginning of the New Year on January 1 are times to celebrate the passage of time and to mark new opportunities in the year ahead.
In America, we are transitioning the leadership of our government which we have done every four or eight years since 1792. This year, the voters wanted change. The Obama administration has promised change while facing the formidable challenges associated with stepping into the leadership role of the world’s largest economic engine during a global and domestic economic crisis which is unprecedented since the Great Depression. By all accounts, the situation has not reached its bottom and it will be years before we climb out of a trough created by our own hands. Even worse is the knowledge that many of the “solutions” may be politically inspired and not the “best” solutions for the situation.
Higher education has not escaped the challenges created by the recent economic downturn. Public universities, funded primarily by states and municipalities, are impacted by the declining sales and property tax revenues which put pressure on funding to the public institutions. Already, some states have announced large tuition increases for next year while cutting or holding flat the level of funding. Private institutions, particularly those not able to claim medallion or elite status, are bracing for a possible downturn in admissions while experiencing a downturn in endowment earnings. These economic issues have surfaced after the Spellings Commission issued its report stressing a need for higher education to improve access, affordability, accountability, and quality.
We are fortunate at the American Public University System. Jim Etter, our founder, passionately believed in the need to provide an affordable education to members of the military and public service communities. He also believed that we should be accessible to anyone who graduated from high school or who had a G.E.D. In order to provide an affordable education while offering access to all, we chose to deliver our classes online. Our online platform has provided us with the capability to expand our program offerings without having to build physical infrastructure such as classroom buildings, dormitories, dining halls, and athletic facilities. It has also allowed us to maintain our undergraduate tuition at the same reasonable level for approximately eight years.
We strive for continuous improvement of our institution. In 2007, we participated in the National Survey for Student Engagement, the Transparency by Design initiative, and The Higher Learning Commission’s Academy for Assessment of Student Learning. Internally, we conduct reviews of a third of our undergraduate and graduate programs every year. Annually the numbers of graduates of our programs increase over those from the year before, a statistic that we are proud to publish.
Colleges and universities have complexities based on the rules of accreditation and regulations of the states in which they operate. Changes in both are inevitable as are changes in the marketplace. Managing through change is easier when you have a sound mission to follow. Our mission, “to educate the nation’s military and public service communities by providing respected, relevant, affordable and student-focused online programs…” keeps us focused on access, affordability, and quality. We look forward to serving our students, current and future, in 2009 and beyond.