American College of Greece a ‘seed that flourished’

American College of Greece a ‘seed that flourished’

The American College of Greece (ACG) was founded in Smyrna in 1875 and was headquartered there until the Asia Minor Disaster in 1922, after which it moved to Greece on the invitation of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and opened in Athens in 1923.

It was a “small seed planted by courageous and visionary US missionary women,” according to ACG president David Horner. “Despite being violently uprooted and relocated, it managed not only to survive but somehow and against unfavorable odds and in challenging circumstances to flourish,” he adds in an interview with Kathimerini.

The American College of Greece will celebrate 150 years of operation in 2025. What does this milestone mean for the college?

Today, ACG is the oldest and largest, comprehensive, US accredited educational institution in Europe, with 5,749 students from 70 countries enrolled in three divisions – Pierce, Deree and Alba. Our founders may not have foreseen this, but we are here today because of what they started and their spirit lives on in the mission and culture of the school.

The ACG Parallel Studies Program has students from almost every Greek state university and more than 1,000 have enrolled over the past year alone. Why is this? Do you think there are any deficiencies in public higher education in Greece?

Parallel Studies students enroll at ACG (Deree) because they perceive that we offer a complementary, affordable (including ACG provided financial assistance) educational experience that can add value to their lives and support their personal and professional aspirations. The attractive elements of this ACG experience, built on the American liberal arts model, include: wide academic choices; close relationships with faculty in highly interactive classroom settings; instruction in English; co-curricular options outside the classroom (e.g. clubs and societies, athletics, student government); study abroad (e.g. Harvard, Stanford, Boston College, University of Virginia, London School of Economics); domestic and international internships; campus employment; career advising and soft skills development; state-of-the-art campus and facilities (e.g. Simulated Trading Room); alumni networking (ACG has 56,000 alumni around the world employed by 70 percent of the world’s top 100 corporate brands). Drawing on all of these resources and options, each Parallel Study student is free to compose their own personal program that addresses their particular interests and dreams. More than any deficiency in the public university, I think the Parallel Study students are drawn to this student-driven, comprehensive, value-adding opportunity that ACG uniquely offers in the Athens market.

What is wrong with Greek technical colleges and universities?

While I can comment based on detailed knowledge about ACG’s operations, I do not have detailed knowledge of individual Greek higher education institutions. I do know that Greek public universities have outstanding students because we have many of them in our classes in the Parallel Studies Program. We also enroll many of them in our graduate programs at Deree and Alba Graduate Business School. In the past (prior to the enactment of a law in the early 1990s forbidding it), we also had many excellent faculty from Greek public universities who taught at Deree or Alba. Therefore, to the extent that there are “distortions” in Greek higher education institutions, I believe these “distortions” are traceable to the overall system within which very fine students and faculty function in Greek universities. So, I will share my views about this system particularly in comparison to the overall US higher education system within which ACG also operates (i.e. ACG is incorporated and accredited in the US and functions under the time-tested US, nonprofit education governance model). From the founding of US colleges and universities in the early 17th century (e.g. Harvard in 1636), private, nonprofit institutions have been among the most prominent. Even today, while the majority of students enroll in public institutions in the US and there are many prestigious public universities (e.g. University of California, University of Michigan), nonprofit private colleges and universities enroll a significant percentage of students (e.g. approximately 20 percent of US enrollment) and dominate the lists of the most prestigious institutions. In recent years, the US for-profit sector of higher education has grown, but still enrolls far fewer students than the public and nonprofit, private sectors. No US for-profit institutions rank highly based on standard evaluative criteria, e.g. quality of students, quality of faculty, investment in the educational experience, alumni loyalty and success, academic reputation. In the US, students can apply to any college or university they aspire to attend, and government financial aid is portable to both public and private (nonprofit and for-profit) institutions. As a result, US colleges and universities compete intensively to recruit students based on demonstrable educational value. The Greek system presents a radically different profile. Here, the public universities are dominant, enrolling approximately 97 percent of students, with perhaps 2 percent enrolled in private, for-profit colleges and 1 percent in private, nonprofit colleges (the majority of the 1 percent is enrolled at ACG – Deree and Alba). With students channeled into Greek public universities based on the Panhellenic Exams, students’ choices are radically constrained in comparison to the US. As a result, Greek public universities need not compete for students as in the US. The final result of this overall framework is a Greek higher education system that is far less responsive to the “market” (i.e. students, families, business) than what you find in the US. This also explains why Greece has historically been a world leader in the outward migration of its own students to other countries.

For years, Greece didn’t recognize the diplomas of private colleges and there are reactions to this issue even today. Why do you believe this is happening? How do you respond to your critics?

A mythology has grown up around private and public higher education in Greece. The genesis of the mythology is undoubtedly in the political context of the 1970s, leading to the inclusion of Article 16 in the Greek Constitution allowing only public universities. A complex set of policies has been added around, although not required by, Article 16 to protect the dominance of Greek public higher education. Sometimes I refer to this “Article 16 framework” as the “Berlin Wall of Greece” – an artificial barrier erected to wall off the public from the private spheres of education in Greece and around which this mythology has developed. Coming to Greece from the US in 2008, I was shocked to hear assertions such as “At a private college you pay to get a good grade” or “Deree is only for rich kids who don’t pass the Panhellenic [university entrance exams].” These notions, however unsupported by facts (e.g. this fall, the median high school grade of new students at Deree was 18.2; 50 percent of Deree students and 73 percent of Alba students receive institutionally provided financial assistance), reflect the mythology. Happily, I believe this mythology is being deconstructed as more and more students and families experience what a private, nonprofit college such as Deree or Alba can offer.

In what ways has the American College of Greece reinforced the country’s academic and business community?

I think ACG’s primary contribution to Greece’s higher education academic community has been as a credible alternative to the prevailing and dominant public higher education model. Many of the current government’s initiatives in Greek public higher education (e.g. instruction in English, attracting international students to Greece, academic programs to better prepare students for market needs, developing students’ soft skills, partnerships with US universities) reflect practices and patterns that have been part of ACG for many years. We have been pleased to offer this alternative to the Greek market, and we would be pleased to share what we have learned from our experience with Greek public universities as they develop in the future to make Greece more of an international education hub. In terms of the business community, ACG’s contribution has been long-lived and significant. Ninety-one percent of our 56,000 Pierce, Deree and Alba alumni reside in Greece. While these alumni can be found in every segment of Greek society – as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, counselors, social workers etc – they are especially prominent in business. If you go into any Greek business of any significant scale you will likely find ACG alumni and often high up in the organizational structure. Currently, between Deree and Alba, we are educating over 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom will pursue careers in Greek businesses. Through the ALBA Association, we are partnering with virtually every major Greek company to provide Executive Education and professional development in the Greek business community.

ACG has committed to implementing a number of initiatives as part of a strategic plan to bolster education in Greece. What are these commitments?

Three years ago, our Board of Trustees discussed the implications of the fact that while ACG had managed to do well in the years of the Greek economic crisis (e.g. our total enrollment grew 56 percent between 2012 and 2019), the country had clearly not prospered. Based on the US experience where colleges and universities are at the center of the ecosystem driving the economy and also based on the positive impact of the Institute of Public Health, which ACG initiated in 2015 with funding from the US-based Behrakis Foundation to focus on arguably Greece’s #1 public health issue – reducing tobacco consumption – we developed a strategic plan aimed at continuing ACG’s positive institutional trend and simultaneously making a material contribution to the Greek economy and overall society. “ACG 150: Advancing the Legacy, Growing Greece” was developed in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, integrating the firm’s New National Growth Model (“Greece 10 Years Ahead: Defining Greece’s New Growth Model and Strategy” with 2018 revised estimates) that projects the potential for 780,000 new jobs and over 66 billion euros in annual GDP growth. To help Greece realize this potential, “ACG 150: Advancing the Legacy, Growing Greece” proposes to:

– leverage the distinctive values inherent in Greece’s Classical, Byzantine and modern history as a foundation for the nation’s sustainable economic and social vitality through an Institute for Hellenic Culture and the Liberal Arts;

– address the public policy and other barriers inhibiting Greece’s economic growth through an Institute for Market-Based Economics;

– support development of three key Greek economic sectors, which have the potential to add 430,000 new jobs and 35 billion euros in annual GDP growth through three Centers of Excellence: Tourism & Leisure; Logistics, Shipping & Transportation; Technology & Digital Economy;

– foster Greek economic development by promoting and facilitating the creation of startups, connections of intellectual property with potential investors/entrepreneurs and serving as a nexus for research, innovation and technology development and transfer through a Research, Technology and Innovation Network, and

– continue ACG’s contribution through its Institute of Public Health to the alleviation of Greece’s primary healthcare challenge – tobacco consumption – to achieve, among other outcomes, 1.2 billion euros by 2028 in total healthcare savings.

To support these initiatives as well as other priorities (e.g. student financial aid, new facilities, faculty and curriculum development), ACG has a set a goal of raising $75 million in philanthropic support by 2025.

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