The college boss who pioneered online preparation in NJ is timid after 35 years

TRENTON — Running a new college wasn’t unequivocally ostensible to be a lifetime thing.

Not usually a new college, a new thought of college: one designed for adults, mostly people who had left college years progressing or never gone, mostly self-directing their possess studies during their possess pace, mostly never stepping feet on campus.

When Thomas Edison State College was shaped in 1972, a thought was, well, nontraditional. The students, a courses, a propagandize itself — nontraditional.

“When we came here, this place was usually 10 years old, and no one knew how to offer adult students,” pronounced George A. Pruitt, who assimilated a propagandize as boss Dec. 1, 1982, and is timid during a finish of this year after 35 years.

“We radically had to emanate this university from whole cloth, and we consider that’s since I’ve been here so long,” he said. “I never dictated to stay here 35 years. But a inlet of a establishment is that we are ceaselessly reinventing it, and it’s been that fun and that event and that payoff to unequivocally emanate an establishment roughly from blemish that has kept me concerned and engaged.”


Pruitt has been a extreme disciple for expanding entrance to aloft preparation and to reimagining how students can best be served, pronounced R. Barbara Gitenstein, a boss of a College of New Jersey given 1999.

“George is unequivocally a vanguard of aloft preparation caring in a state,” Gitenstein said.

Thomas Edison still exclusively serves adults over age 21 (the normal tyro age is 36) and is now a university. Its enrollment of 17,500 creates it one of a largest schools in New Jersey.

It was a unequivocally opposite place when Pruitt arrived. There were no online courses, of march — what internet, what personal computers, what smartphones? — so students were holding courses by mail. In what amounted to saved association courses, students perceived materials, including VHS tapes and papers, in a mail and sent them behind along with assignments and papers.


In a late 1980s, a few years after Pruitt arrived, a propagandize began experimenting with digital courses. Primitive collection such as online circular play developed into worldly environments accessible today, including a flash-drive-based complement that allows troops members in remote locations such as submarines to take whole courses on a laptop though internet access.

Pruitt “encouraged and upheld creation via a institution, that was his role,” pronounced Drew Hopkins, a university’s arch information officer, who assimilated a propagandize in 1977. “He really, unequivocally had usually unusual prophesy about a instruction that aloft ed was going in.”

Today, usually a handful of courses are taught in a university’s buildings in Trenton, that consecrate  the barest thought of a campus. The immeasurable infancy of classes are online, with students holding whole grade programs that way. Many of those who uncover adult to graduation are visiting a propagandize for a initial time.

Pruitt doesn’t come from a record background, though Hopkins and others pronounced Pruitt has been means to arise Thomas Edison since of an heated concentration on mission.

George Pruitt during an talk in his bureau during Thomas Edison State University. AKIRA SUWA

In an interview, Pruitt earnings regularly to a indicate that a university is tangible not by how it teaches though whom. At one point, he recites a university’s goal matter verbatim: Thomas Edison State University provides flexible, high-quality, collegiate training opportunities for self-directed adults.

“That’s who we are,” Pruitt said. “These other things are usually methodologies that will come and go as a meridian changes, as a needs of a students change, and as a multitude changes.”

Some needs don’t change. Thomas Edison State University’s students mostly aren’t means to take courses full time during a day — they simply can’t put careers and families on reason — and in many cases have been in college before though never finished.

Online courses, taken during a students’ possess gait on their time, help. So does “prior training assessment,” in that students denote they have schooled skills and believe in a genuine world.

“The form in that a training took place is irrelevant to us,” Pruitt said. “We don’t caring where a tyro schooled it, we caring about a fact that a tyro schooled it.”

But aloft preparation broadly is changing, and that has combined new foe for schools such as Thomas Edison. Community colleges have always had adult students, and for-profit colleges aggressively marketplace their online options and aim adults. Some open and private four-year schools have begun formulating or flourishing their adult programs, as well, saying a demographic change divided from 18- to 22-year-old students.

And a arise of a internet, that remade Thomas Edison and other schools, also combined foe opposite geography. Today, about 56 percent of TESU students are outward a state, including all 50 states and dozens of countries.

“Unfortunately, as appropriation has left down for aloft ed, for a publics, it’s turn a small bit of a game, chasing enrollment,” pronounced Merodie A. Hancock, a boss of Empire State College, a State University of New York propagandize likewise focused on adults. “One of a things online did is it combined foe in whole new ways. We all had state turfs, and online non-stop it adult where foe is unexpected so most higher.”

That has done specialization so most some-more critical for a adults-only schools away and as a group. Pruitt has been a coach to Hancock, who has been during Empire State for 4 years.

“I’m grateful he didn’t retire until we had some years in here,” she said, after joking: “I can’t contend I’m quite happy with him retiring, though we wish him a best.”

Pruitt skeleton to stay during Thomas Edison until Dec. 31 or until a curators find a replacement, after that he will take a one-year sabbatical and lapse to a university in a propagandize of open use and stability studies.

“It’s a outrageous legacy,” Gitenstein, a TCNJ president, pronounced of what her crony and co-worker leaves behind. “It is intimidating, we would be frightened to come in as a president. … we don’t consider that would be something that is usually going to be an easy thing to follow.”

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