Dr. Shawntel Landry: The American College of Education

Jan 26, 2016 by

Dr Shawntel Landry(1)

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) First of all, tell us about the American College of Education and what you are trying to accomplish, and also a bit about yourself and your education and experiences.

American College of Education (ACE) is a regionally accredited college that operates entirely online. It was founded ten years ago by educators who wanted to find a more targeted and cost-effective way to help other educators obtain graduate degrees and professional development, because we know that stronger teachers mean stronger student outcomes. We are proud of our ability to understand teachers and what they go through on a daily basis. In fact, 92 percent of our senior academics have direct K-12 experience. Our students can take comfort in knowing we truly have walked a mile in their shoes.
ACE wants to change higher education so that it’s more affordable, more accessible, and still equally as valuable as traditional brick-and-mortar programs are viewed today. We believe that better training shouldn’t come at the expense of pocketbooks that are already tightly squeezed, especially when it comes to educators who already have very finite financial resources. We are living out our vision–at under $8,000 total tuition for an M.Ed. degree and under $20,000 total tuition for an Ed.D. degree, our tuition is one-third the price of competitor programs. The quality is there as well; our programs are rigorous and immediately applicable to classrooms.

I come from an educational family: both of my parents, and several of my aunts and uncles were all teachers. It was our life, and it was just understood I would be a teacher as well.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Gifted Education from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. I taught at private and public schools for 6 years, and wrote K-12 curriculum for many years before earning my MBA and doctorate, and moving into higher education. I’ve been at American College of Education for over six years, serving as provost and interim president for the last 2.5.

2) Recently, the President gave his last state of the union address.  I was not impressed. What has he really done in the last 8 years to help individuals who want to seek higher education? In his first state of the Union, he talked about “world class education”. Has that come to pass?

I don’t think world class education has arrived, no. When he started his presidency, Mr. Obama’s agenda for education was centered on accountability (fiscally and for student outcomes) and rising costs in higher education. What we’ve been hearing the most about lately, however, is an initiative for free community college. I can see how this would alleviate a financial burden for some, but this doesn’t address the underlying issue that causes the burden in the first place: rising costs in higher education and accountability for institutional outcomes.
I didn’t like his accountability plan, as it had several problems. However, I think he was right that we do need something that forces institutions–even non-profit institutions–to account for each dollar they spend. How much of each dollar is being spent on programs and/or students compared to research, dorms, and rock climbing walls? We also need to remember that higher education is first and foremost about educating students–not research, not protecting our turf, nor protecting our jobs.

While I am in favor of decreasing costs and increasing institutional accountability, it’s been proven that students who are vested in what they are doing do have better outcomes. There has to be a balance between making higher education so accessible that it doesn’t require personal investment and hard work, and making it so inaccessible that it becomes a burden. We must first attack that problem so college again becomes affordable for all rather than a select few.

3) It would seem that with online classes, a lot of overhead is quite minimized. Or am I off on this?

You’re absolutely right. One of the largest expenses brick-and-mortar universities have is the maintenance of their facilities. When you consider how many buildings are on a typical college campus–and I’m also thinking dorms and gymnasiums and facilities that house things other than classrooms–the cost is exponentially higher. Students subsidize that with their tuition. American College of Education has two small offices for support staff, one in Indianapolis and one in Dallas. That’s it. Everyone else is remote, and all of our lectures and course readings and discussions are done online. We avoid the expense of that overhead, and our students benefit by not having the burden of large debts to pay for tuition.

4) Let’s talk about debt and interest rates quite simply. Does the AVERAGE American understand that when they borrow, say $5,000.00 at 18 percent interest, that it is going to take them YEARS to pay off that debt?

No, they do not. We are in a society that makes decisions based on the now–what is the cost now, not what is the cost later. We buys houses, cars, and even furniture that way. We think in terms of a monthly note rather than an overall cost. Thus, the college that offers a master’s program at $15,000 with financing that will not kick in until they graduate seems cheaper than a $7,000 program that is pay-as-you go and allows you to graduate debt-free, even though the $15,000 program can cost an average of $4,000 more at 10 percent interest. As colleges and universities, we must take the time to educate our students so they understand the various scenarios and can make an informed choice.

5) TITLE 4 aid—-how does it figure into the big picture? Why does the average teacher pursuing a master’s degree need to know about it?

American College of Education is unique in the arena, especially among for-profit schools. We do not accept Title IV federal financial aid and that is by design. We’re of the mindset that this is partially why college costs so much; the expense that goes into managing a Title IV program would probably surprise most people. It doesn’t factor into our big picture right now, and most of our students graduate without additional debt from their master’s programs, although they’re still carrying the burden of their undergraduate loans.

6) Where is the American College of Education actually located? And what is your basic mission statement and philosophy?

American College of Education is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. Our mission is to deliver high-quality, affordable and accessible online programs grounded in evidence-based content and relevant application, preparing graduates to serve, lead, and achieve personal and professional goals in diverse, evolving communities.

Our philosophy is that by leveraging technology in innovative ways, we can reduce the cost of tuition and still provide high value, impactful programs to our students. We want to reduce barriers to advanced education–cost, location, time–so educators can improve themselves personally, professionally, and above all, for the children in their classrooms. We hope that we are showing future students that there are quality programs available to them without a huge financial sacrifice and years of future debt. Higher education does not have to require years of future debt if technology and resources are utilized effectively for the benefit of student instruction.

7) I am going to use perhaps a politically incorrect word- but in some colleges and universities- are the Professors and Instructors not subsidizing sports and other frivolities?

They are not necessarily subsidizing sports and other frivolities, but those extras do add to the total cost of tuition. If we can educate students so they can make informed choices, then students can decide whether or not attending a university with sports and other potential extras is worth it. Many first year freshman do want that experience. Frankly, I want my own children to have that experience. But, we must realize that traditional college students between 18-22 years old are not the majority of college attendees any longer. The majority of college attendees are over the age of 30. So we need less of the “traditional college experience,” and more affordable options for working adults who need education and credentials to better their lives.

8) Some people complain about tuition- but I have seen the cost of books skyrocketing also.  What is your take on this?

I agree. Textbooks are absolutely a large piece of the puzzle when we’re looking at the total burden of cost for students. When I was earning my advanced degrees, textbooks would cost hundreds of dollars each term and most were five to seven years old. That’s one of the many reasons we don’t use hardcopy textbooks at ACE. We use an online library of carefully curated periodicals, journals, online books, and other digital assets. Our online library allows us to expose our students to cutting edge research at a minimal cost. They do pay a library fee to access those materials, but when a single textbook today–for one semester!–can cost $400 or more, a $10 library fee per credit hour is miniscule. For most master’s programs at ACE, students pay less than $400 for cutting-edge research for their entire program, not on one book for one course. This is another way we’ve been able to reduce the total cost of an advanced degree for our students.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

In every facet of life, there’s a preconceived link between cost and quality. American College of Education is unapologetic about breaking that link. We’re in the digital age, so it’s time colleges and universities use technology to make college more efficient, more convenient, and more affordable. We do this very practically, and we prove that it works without compromising the quality of our programs. A prime example of this is our graduate pass rate for the Florida Educational Leadership Examination (FELE), which awards state licensure and certification for the Master of Education in Educational Leadership (principalship). ACE graduates have a 99% pass rate as compared to the state average of 94%.

Our programs are rigorous, our students work hard, and our student outcomes support this. Our graduation rate is 73 percent compared to the national average at 50-64 percent, and our retention rate is 82 percent for master’s degrees compared to a national average of 72 percent. Nearly 80 percent of our students finish their degree in 18 months, which means they’re ready for the next step in their careers in less than two years, and 95 percent of graduates say they have stronger professional skills after finishing our programs. And, employers agree with our students’ assessment; nearly 90 percent of employers surveyed say ACE graduates have specialized knowledge in their field, strong multicultural perspective, and competence with digital technology.

In many cases, our students paid up to $17,000 less for our degree than they would have at competitor schools, and their outcomes are on par with or better than outcomes at those same institutions.

Cost doesn’t have any bearing on quality if you utilize your resources correctly, and the more smaller, innovative colleges and universities can show this, the more likely we are to see larger universities adopt the model and begin to reduce the burden of cost in higher education.

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