michael-plater-3.jpgBy C.B. HANIF

In a sign of the times, Inside Higher Education recently reported that the 18- to 24-year-old student no longer is the majority undergraduate demographic.

Instead, nontraditional students make up 70 percent of the undergraduate population, with nearly half of those financially independent, 34 percent working full-time and 25 percent with dependents of their own.

Which is where Michael A. Plater comes in, with his emphasis on education as a pathway to success, and his experience in motivating and educating adult learners.

Plater recently was named the 14th president of Strayer University, a for-profit institution of higher learning, with campuses from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach Gardens in South Florida, among roughly 90 in 23 states nationwide. The institution founded as Strayer Business College in 1892 has 45,000 students today, more than half of those in its online degree programs.

At 14, Plater earned a scholarship to Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College, an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate from the College of William and Mary.

After beginning his career in management in the private sector, Plater served as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, and associate dean of the Graduate School at Brown University. He joined Strayer in 2010 as provost and chief academic officer and was named president in May.

His focus on identifying the best instructional methods for adult learners who face the delicate balance of work and family possibly was informed as he pursued his doctoral degree while he and his wife both worked full-time as they raised two children.

As part of Strayer’s 120th anniversary, he recently led a major gathering of business and education leaders in Washington, D.C in a discussion of “The Role of Higher Education in a Global Economy.”

The recognition of the institution’s longevity comes at a time when the premise of for-profit institutions is challenged with such charges as their fleecing students by spending more on marketing than student instruction, and abusing the public trust by gobbling up government subsidies as profit.

A two-year investigation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee led by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, recently resulted in a scathing report and congressional hearings on the for-profit college industry.

Strayer was particularly singled out in Aug. 9’s Doonesbury, the political-satire comic strip, in which a character exclaimed: “And a third of the students are gone within a year!”

Plater, however, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education last month that while there are many factors contributing to the growing interest in for-profit institutions, he attributes their attraction to their meeting the needs of non-traditional students.

“We do our job and the numbers are what they are,” he said. “We are totally focused on the adult students. Those students are a part of our mission that we revolve everything around. Minority students certainly look at that model and in many cases find that it meets their needs as nontraditional students.”

Bloomberg Business Week calculates Plater’s total compensation as of fiscal year 2011 at $511,422. That also speaks volumes about his learning firsthand how education can transform lives, after being raised by a single parent and attending inner-city schools in Washington.

At Strayer, he says his goal as president is to “Pay it Forward” – giving ahead of giving back – by helping make education more accessible to more people, especially adult learners.

*Pictured above is Michael Plater