Make us your home page

Former Strayer University owner gives back to students through Bailey Family Foundation

After selling Strayer University for $150 million in 2000, Ronald Bailey established the Bailey Family Foundation, which awards numerous scholarships to bay area students each year.


After selling Strayer University for $150 million in 2000, Ronald Bailey established the Bailey Family Foundation, which awards numerous scholarships to bay area students each year.

TAMPA — In 1989, Ronald Bailey took a risk: He mortgaged his house to help finance his $5 million purchase of a controlling stake in Strayer College in Washington, D.C. Unlike many other entrepreneurs, Bailey struck gold, turning the foundering education center into a multimillion-dollar corporation.

Bailey sold the school in 2000 for $150 million, making more than $70 million from the sale.

He then trucked his riches to Tampa Bay to head the Bailey Family Foundation. It has quietly distributed $25 million in college scholarships since 2001 to students in Pinellas, Polk and Hillsborough counties.

Bailey doesn't seek headlines and operates discreetly from an office building in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

"People are leery of foundations and think all they want is money," he said. "I don't need money; I have it. I don't have much of an ego. I like to think I'm doing something good."

The foundation, worth about $50 million, awards renewable $5,000 scholarships to one student from every high school and every college in Pinellas, Polk and Hillsborough counties. Each student also gets a computer.

Bailey attributes his rags-to-riches tale to hard work and education.

After teaching for several years at Strayer, Bailey worked his way up to vice president.

In 1989, he bought controlling interest of the school and targeted working adults who juggled college courses into busy schedules so they could qualify for a better jobs. The college became Strayer University. He developed a graduate degree program and revised the university's computer courses.

Bailey is active with many organizations, including the University of Tampa, the Special Operations Warriors Foundation in Tampa, the Salvation Army, the Florida Orchestra, the Straz Center and Tampa General Hospital. He has also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to high school students in northern Virginia.

He talked to the Times about his foundation.

Why do you donate to local students?

It is important to Beverly (his wife) and I to support the community in which we live. We like to support the colleges and universities in our community. Kids appreciate it. It's unbelievable, the letters I get from parents. For a lot of people, it makes a difference. The $5,000 is the cost of in-state tuition.

You described yourself as a "poor boy" from the coal mines of West Virginia. How did those mines impact you?

I graduated from high school in 1959, but there was no work in the mines because they became automated. We were so poor I went to work as a grease monkey. I then borrowed $40 from an uncle and took a bus to Winchester, Va.

I went into the Army and got sent to computer school. I didn't even know what a computer was. (Bailey earned degrees from Strayer and American University.) I learned a skill. I was trying to finish my education and was asked to teach at Strayer in 1974. I got more involved in 1981 as a full-time professor. I worked my way up to become vice president. Everything fell into the right place at the right time.

Why did you buy Strayer?

I got it so I didn't have to work for somebody else. My accountant said it was a terrible mistake. In five years, it was paid off. I knew about accounting. I knew teaching. I learned marketing once I got there. That was the business model. People on Wall Street noticed me.

Strayer enrollment skyrocketed after you bought the school. Was your growth motivated by making money or expanding educational opportunities?

It was about the students. I never took much money out, but I still had to make a payroll. I still don't spend much money. My salary then was $96,000. Nobody made more than me. If they needed more, they needed to go somewhere else. I had no corporate structure and didn't call campus leaders managers. I called them coordinators. If you needed toilet paper, you had to get it yourself. But I knew the prices.

What was the key to Strayer's expansion?

The day I got control, we were successful in expanding the school. From 1989 to 2001, we went from 1,000 to 14,000 students. In Washington, D.C., you have a lot of gridlock. (We opened multiple) campuses that became extremely popular with working students. I didn't put them too close together. I did the same thing in Baltimore and Richmond. The profit margins were about 42 percent.

Florida lawmakers are pushing for an on online-only university. Should Florida have one?

It is the future. I think even at the high school level, some online classes would work. They're making the classes smarter. I was never motivated enough to do a home-study course. I think it's best if you also go someplace to take a class. We had the very first online classes in 1996 and 1997. When we first started that, the instructor had to be there online for it to work. There isn't a class that you can take that can't be taught online.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at

.Fast facts

Scholarship eligibility

The Bailey Family Foundation awards scholarships to high school seniors and college students in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties. Applications are being accepted through March 15. Applicants can apply at

Guidelines include:

• Possess a minimum, cumulative grade-point average of 2.5; demonstrate financial need and be a graduating high school senior or current college student.

• Currently attend or planning to attend eligible schools listed in the application and be legal U.S. residents.

• Be pursuing undergraduate degree or diploma; scholarships are for tuition and tuition-related fees only; if selected, application information will be verified.

Former Strayer University owner gives back to students through Bailey Family Foundation 02/12/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 13, 2012 7:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Expanded Belle Parc RV Resort lures travelers with plenty of amenities


    BROOKSVILLE — Imagine mid-mansion, upscale-enclave living. On wheels. The outcome is Belle Parc, an upwardly mobile, even luxury, RV retreat just north of Brooksville that opened Jan. 1 after two years undergoing expansion, uplift and amenity enrichment.

    A new welcome center is under construction, rear, at Belle Parc RV Resort, where lake sites are being completed, bringing the resort's capacity to 275 spacious park-and-stay slots.
 [Photo by Beth N. Gray]
  2. Memorial Day sales not enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay malls


    TAMPA — Memorial Day sales at Tampa Bay area malls were not enough to compete with the beach and backyard barbecues this holiday weekend.

    Memorial Day sales weren't enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay area malls over the long weekend. 
  3. Austin software company acquires second Tampa business


    Austin, Tex.-based Asure Software acquired Tampa's Compass HRM Inc. late last week for $6 million. Compass focuses on HR and payroll.

    [Company photo]
  4. Hackers hide cyberattacks in social media posts


    SAN FRANCISCO — It took only one attempt for Russian hackers to make their way into the computer of a Pentagon official. But the attack didn't come through an email or a file buried within a seemingly innocuous document.

    Jay Kaplan and Mark Kuhr, former NSA employees and co-founders of Synack, a cybersecurity company, in their office in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2013. While last year's hacking of senior Democratic Party officials raised awareness of the damage caused if just a handful of employees click on the wrong emails, few people realize that a message on Twitter or Facebook could give an attacker similar access to their system. 
[New York Times file photo]
  5. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times