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Eckerd College discontinues adult education program after 35 years

ST. PETERSBURG — For those stretched thin between a job and a family, Eckerd College made it possible to pursue a liberal arts education with the personal touch of face-to-face instruction enjoyed by traditional students.

But in recent times, many are forgoing that for the convenience and flexibility of online classes. And it shows, as enrollments in Eckerd's adult education program have steadily plummeted, forcing the program to fold after 35 years.

Eckerd College on Friday announced it will begin to phase out its Program for Experienced Learners, created to accommodate adults 24 years and older pursuing a liberal arts education through night and weekend courses.

The college has ceased enrolling new students, and classes for current students at Eckerd's St. Petersburg and Tampa campuses will continue into summer 2017. Eckerd is working with local colleges and universities to create processes to transfer credits.

"We really do believe in the efficacy of the small classroom, individualized attention," said Suzan Harrison, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Eckerd. "We really have tried to connect with that student population but we really are in many ways just working against a pretty massive cultural trend right now toward online education."

In past years, Eckerd enrolled as many as 1,000 students into the program, although that number has steadily declined over the past decade. Current enrollment stands at 277.

"Financially, we're not breaking even on adult education anymore," said Eckerd president Donald Eastman. "We used to have quite a net revenue stream for it."

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a 1998 graduate of the program, credited his experience at Eckerd to his success in law school at Stetson University.

"I wasn't 19 years old," Gualtieri said. "You've got to pay the bills and put food on the table and support family. In order to make that work, that's what the PEL program allowed me to do."

Contact Colleen Wright at or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.