July 31 marked James Baldwin’s last day as president and CEO of Excelsior College. With a current enrollment of more than 23,000, the private, online institution based in Albany was founded in 1971 and has had just three presidents. The 65-year-old Baldwin was appointed president in October 2016.
WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Baldwin about his time at Excelsior and the future of education given the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Baldwin: We have really repositioned the college for the future. When I became president about four years ago now, the college was facing some pretty serious financial issues. And what really my tenure has been about is repositioning the college for the future, focusing on investments in technology and as you might understand, and appreciate As an online institution, the technology is really critical for our operations in the future, we have been revamping our degree programs and redoing all of our online courses to make them more engaging for our students. The student demographic is changing many of our well our students or adults. Many of them now are digital natives. So they have different expectations for online learning than existed 10 or so years ago. And then it's also been about telling the Excelsior story. We have embarked upon a marketing campaign that really provides the public with information about the mission of Excelsior College and the extent to which we will work with students to help them complete their degrees.
Levulis: To that point about technology, obviously education and specifically in-person teaching has been up ended by the coronavirus pandemic, being online based has Excelsior been impacted by the pandemic?
Well, the impact for us has actually been favorable. We have seen increased inquiries in terms of our variety of our degree programs. So given that we had a sort of strengthened online infrastructure in place, the pandemic really did not have any adverse effects on our students or on their ability to access an education at Excelsior College. In fact, you know, we are seeing increased activity.
Levulis: And so you spent years working for the New York State Education Department and for the Secretary of State for New York with your experience and Government in education. Do you think the pandemic will alter education in the U.S. as we know it? You spoke a little bit about that, as you know, in the sense of online, online teaching Excelsior has seen a positive impact by the pandemic.
I think it will alter education. I think if we look at what's happened to education over the last couple of decades, you see that the changes that happened in the economy previously, find a find a way of creeping into the educational sector, it's usually on a delayed basis, but it's certainly happened. So you know, businesses sort of paved the way in terms of the use of the internet for their practices and for reaching their customers. Excelsior College was an early adopter of the use of the Internet in terms of providing educational opportunity. I think you'll see as time goes on here, more and more of the K 12 systems are going to look to the internet look to online learning as part of their regular offering of programs. When I was the district superintendent at Questar III BOCES. I joined with my colleague Barbara Nagler at Capital Region BOCES to create Tech Valley High School. And really at the time, what we were doing is setting the stage for changes in K-12 education. The high school has a technology base, it functions from a technology base. All of the students were given laptops going back 12 years ago, and the school is a project based learning school. So it's not just about seat time, it's about engaging in skill development, and I think that As education evolves, we will see more and more high school graduates look to online education as a first option, not as a backup option. And that will change the way our K 12 systems behave. And it will ultimately change the way in which traditional institutions of higher education function.
Levulis: Can you tell us a bit about your successor at Excelsior College?
My successor is Dr. David Schejbal. He is coming to us from Marquette University. And prior to that he has a long career in higher education really focused on the use of technology and education and focused on adult learners. So he's really a perfect fit for Excelsior. Our focus historically has been to help adults complete their degrees. We have very generous credit transfer policies, we offer opportunities to earn college credit through examinations. We do Prior Learning Assessment where we'll assess your certifications that you might possess or the professional development you've received in the workplace and give you credit for that. And David happens to be a person who has been involved in all of those aspects of what I like to refer to as our educational ecosystem here at Excelsior College.