GIG: ACG’s history is closely tied to the history of Greece. In what ways has Greece inspired you in the shaping of ACG’s identity and its role in the community? What makes ACG unique from other overseas American colleges?
Horner: ACG’s history has indeed paralleled that of modern Greece, from the school’s founding in 1875 in Smyrna up until the present. I often make the point to U.S. audiences that while ACG is U.S.-based, its history is unlike that of any educational institution on U.S. soil. The official history of the college contains numerous, moving descriptions of ACG events that were fundamentally Greek events, e.g. Smyrna Catastrophe, German occupation, dictatorship, and economic crises. One of an institutional president’s primary roles is to understand and interpret the organisation’s history to guide its future. We have very consciously tried to do that in our strategic planning for ACG since my arrival in the summer of 2008.
One broad theme that arises from ACG’s history is education as an instrument for positive social change. The founders of ACG, women from Massachusetts, had this purpose very much in mind when they created a school for Greek, Armenian, Jewish, and Turkish girls in Smyrna in 1875. Today we have this purpose very much in mind as we pursue our current strategic plan: ACG150⎟ Advancing the Legacy, Growing Greece. The subtitle of this plan is Leveraging education for economic and social impact, an echo of our founders’ vision but responsive to the early 21st century context and, specifically, Greece’s need for economic and quality employment growth.
The uniqueness of ACG as a U.S. based educational institution abroad is precisely centred in our Greek context. Greece is especially rich as an environment for the development of an educational institution for multiple reasons, including Greece’s unique contribution to the tradition of learning in the West, and its location and culture – facing both west and east.
GIG: Despite the years of economic crisis, ACG has managed to increase its student enrolment and offerings. Did the decade-long economic crisis affect you in any way? If so, how?
Horner: Due to the economic crisis, ACG tuition has been relatively flat for most of the past ten years. At the same time, the college’s commitment to student financial aid has increased dramatically (i.e. 700% since 2008-2009). Across our three units – Pierce, Deree, Alba – we estimate 49% of our students will receive ACG-provided financial aid in 2019-2020. Our total enrolment has grown from just over 4,000 students in 2008-2009 to over 5,700 students in the fall of 2019. We are pleased not only with this quantitative increase, but also with the increase in student quality and diversity. In the fall of 2019, the middle 50% of entering Deree students have high school leaving scores of 16.8-19.1 on the 20-point Greek scale. While the majority of our students continue to be Greek, we now enrol students from 73 countries. Over 250 U.S. and international universities are sending us more than 1,000 students annually for study abroad at Deree and Alba. We also have over 1,000 students who enrol annually in Parallel Study at Deree from every Greek public university. This mix of highly achieving and diverse students makes for a dynamic learning environment.
GIG: You have placed great emphasis on matching the skills required in the marketplace with the skills your graduates actually have. Can you tell us more about this ideology? How do you plan to develop it further so more students can have the benefit of such connections with the real world of work? What percentage of your graduates find suitable professional opportunities in the short to medium term?
Horner: Recent studies have highlighted the unfortunate fact that during the Greek economic crisis the gap widened between the skills employers in Greece seek and the skills students graduating from Greek universities possess. This reality explains, in part, the continuing high rate of unemployment among the Greek youth. ACG’s profile in this respect is quite different, however. For the most recent year and six months after graduation, 91.3% of Deree graduates were employed, in the military, in graduate school, or otherwise placed. We work hard to connect our students to the market, both domestically and internationally. In 2019, we placed 265 interns in 4 countries funded by more than 120 companies, and 117 companies participated in our Campus Career Days to interview and recruit our students. Multinational and Greek companies are especially attracted to the multi-language proficiency of our students as well as to their academic achievement in a liberal arts-based curriculum and holistic educational environment that produces the soft skills employers desire.
GIG: Going forward, what are your priorities and some of your long-term goals at ACG?
Horner: Our vision is based primarily on our perception of the needs of Greece at this moment. In 2017, we adopted a new strategic plan to take us to the College’s 150th anniversary in 2025. The focus of this plan is continuing ACG’s positive institutional trends of the last several years and, at the same time, developing ACG as an institutional lever to address some of Greece’s most urgent challenges, especially economic growth and public health.
Based on a recent study we commissioned with McKinsey and Company, Greece has the potential to add over 700,000 jobs in areas such as: tourism; agriculture; manufacturing; logistics, shipping and transportation; and innovation and digital transformation. Achieving this potential would reverse Greece’s brain drain and establish Greece on a growth-oriented, sustainable economic foundation for the future. We believe that in the 21st-century, knowledge-based global economy, education is the key to unlocking Greece’s potential, and we are committed to doing everything we can, as an educational institution, to turn this Greek potential into reality.
In the area of public health, we have had the generous sponsorship since 2015 by the Boston-based Behrakis Foundation of our Institute of Public Health, which is focused on arguably Greece’s #1 public health challenge – tobacco consumption. Our goal, working in cooperation with the Greek government and other agencies, is to reduce tobacco consumption in Greece by 27% by 2028. This would save the country an estimated €1.3 billion in healthcare costs.
GIG: The final months of 2019, in particular, have seen a boost in confidence in Greece after years of stagnation. What is your response to the changes announced by the new government in the area of education? How do you see the regulatory framework evolving with respect to privately-run education?
Horner: We are supportive of the direction of the new government’s changes. These changes, dealing primarily with the public universities, are in the direction of the U.S. educational system, e.g. English-language-based curricula, institutional autonomy, and student choice. While the U.S. system is not perfect, it still is generally recognised as the global gold standard in international higher education. Greece will be well-served by transitioning in that direction.
Greece’s private higher education sector is underdeveloped, particularly in the small number of non-profit higher education institutions. The American College of Greece is one of the few such institutions in the country. Cultivating a more robust, non-profit higher education sector would add substantial value and strength to the Greek system. Also, Greece needs to replace the current time-consuming, labour-intensive, bureaucratic degree recognition processes for graduates of private institutions with independently demonstrable quality assurance through, for example, international accreditation.
GIG: Deree and Alba have a large proportion of exchange students. The new government is more amenable to allow Greek universities to run English language courses. Do you see this as a challenge or an opportunity?
Horner: As noted earlier, we enrol a substantial number of international exchange students; study abroad has been our fastest growing student segment over the last several years. Through exchange agreements, we not only bring students to Greece – over 1,000 annually –– we also send Greek, and other, students abroad to enrich their educational experiences. Last year 133 ACG students studied abroad in 42 U.S. and international universities, including Harvard, the University of California Berkeley, Stanford, Cornell, the University of Virginia, Imperial College London, Emory University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
ACG’s experience proves that Greece can be a major international education destination; so, the new government is wise to try to develop Greek public universities this way. We do not see this as a threat to ACG’s exchange and study abroad programmes. On the contrary, anything that builds the ‘Greece brand’ in international education can only further strengthen our attraction to students.
GIG: It is often said that one of Greece’s biggest assets is its endowment of human capital. What is your assessment? What steps do you believe need to be taken to turn Greece’s brain drain into a brain gain?
Horner: We totally agree that Greece has a natural, human capital advantage. On the one hand, this advantage needs to be enhanced further by continuing to reform and strengthen Greece’s ‘human capital engine’ – the country’s educational system from elementary through higher education – to produce the skills required for Greece’s economic development. A very specific need is to build into the Greek educational culture a receptivity to entrepreneurship. On the other hand, education reform needs to be matched by economic reform that will support economic formation, to promote and sustain economic growth, to be able to offer the country’s talented youth attractive economic opportunities. As outlined earlier, the ACG150⎟ Advancing the Legacy, Growing Greece strategic plan we are currently implementing is designed to make a meaningful contribution in these directions.
GIG: ACG has a special agreement with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation targeting parallel study students. What are the objectives of this programme? How has this evolved?
Horner: For many years, ACG has enrolled undergraduate students from Greek public universities in ‘Parallel Study’, i.e. students from the public universities complementing their studies with a second degree, or a focused area of study, at Deree. More recently, we developed a series of ‘Certificate Minors’, a sequence of six or so courses in specific disciplines. These have proven especially popular with Parallel Study students – for example, law students taking finance, or engineering students taking management. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation gave us two rounds of funding to grow this programme and then, based on the demonstrated success of the programme, provided an endowment to assure its future. Stavros Niarchos Scholars are selected based on a competitive application and, once enrolled, have access to enhanced offerings including soft skills development workshops, internships, and study abroad.
The primary goal of the Parallel Study programme is to add value to students’ experience – that is at the core of our mission as an institution. A secondary goal is to demonstrate the potential complementarity of the public and private higher education sectors in Greece. Public/private complementarity is a major feature of the U.S. higher education system and could become a significant contributor to the growing strength of the Greek higher education system.