ACG is the oldest and largest American accredited educational institution in Europe. Founded in 1875 in Smyrna, Asia Minor, as a school for Armenian, Greek, Jewish, and Turkish girls and relocated to Greece in 1923, ACG enrolls 6,000 students served by more than 500 faculty in three educational divisions: Deree, Europe’s largest U.S.-accredited college; Alba, Greece’s premier, independent graduate business school; Pierce, a leading independent secondary school.
In the 1940s, the College educated Greece’s first social workers to assist in the post-World War II recovery. In the 1970s and 1980s, ACG introduced psychology, marketing, and information technology as academic disciplines to Greece.
In Greece’s economic crisis, ACG increased student financial aid by 700% and launched: VentureGarden (The Hellenic Initiative partnership to identify and support Greek start-ups); Heritage Greece (National Hellenic Society partnership to provide a unique short-term experience for outstanding Greek American University students); the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Scholars Program for Greek public university students to study in parallel at Deree; the Pierce Jewish Community Program (Lauder Foundation partnership offering 100% of need scholarships to qualified students).
The National Herald: What measures did you take during the covid pandemic?
Dr. David G. Horner: During the COVID-19 pandemic, ACG pivoted to online instruction, increased financial aid, and contributed directly to the community’s needs through blood drives and production of face shields for local hospitals in Pierce’s Fab Lab.
Deree’s new Biomedical Sciences program initiated a partnership with the Tufts Center for Drug Development, offering for the first time in Europe a professional certificate in this critical area of economic development and public health.
TNH: What is your opinion about private higher education in Greece?
DH: Private higher education in Greece is trending in the right direction under current government policy but is still constrained by Article 16 of the Greek Constitution permitting only public universities.
ACG’s Parallel Study Program, which has grown substantially in the last ten years, enrolling annually over 1,000 Greek public university students in ‘certificate minor’ or full degree programs at Deree, is an example of the potential complementarity of the public and independent sectors of Greek higher education.
Looking to the future and anticipating a Constitutional change, we are positioning ACG to become The American University of Greece (AUG). We believe the diversity represented by the U.S. higher education system would greatly benefit Greece by opening more choices for students and providing more institutional autonomy and accountability.
TNH: Tell us about the importance of the Behrakis Foundation in public health.
DH: The Institute of Public Health at ACG is another significant initiative launched during the Greek economic crisis, with the generous support of the Behrakis Foundation.
The vision for this focused effort to reduce tobacco consumption in Greece, especially among young people, is directly attributable to George Behrakis. As he tells the story, he was outraged by witnessing individuals distributing free cigarettes outside Greek elementary schools.
A pioneering leader in the United States and international pharmaceutical industry, he understood well the addictive power of cigarettes and the personal and public costs resulting from such an addiction. Before the pandemic, tobacco consumption was arguably Greece’s #1 long-term public health challenge, with enormous financial implications for the Greek healthcare system.
Initially, the Behrakis Foundation partnered with the Harvard School of Public Health. Led by Prof. Panagiotis Behrakis, cousin of George Behrakis and a distinguished Pulmonologist-Intensivist and Tobacco Control expert in Greece, this initiative, which was transferred to ACG in 2015, has contributed materially to the decline in smoking prevalence in Greece: 24.5% reduction in adults and 52.4% reduction in young people (16-24 years old) between 2009-2019, according to the Hellenic Statistic Authority.
Indeed, it was ACG’s recognition of the significant impact of the public health initiative conceived by George Behrakis and funded by the Behrakis Foundation that inspired our board of trustees to explore other possibilities for ACG having a broader social impact role – a role now central to our current ACG 150 Strategic Plan.
TNH: What is your vision for The American College of Greece?
DH: Coming out of the pandemic, Greece now shares with the rest of the world the complex challenge of both growing an economy and cultivating a sustainable, adaptive, healthy, resilient society. The ACG 150 Strategic Plan, aiming at the College’s 150th year in 2025, is centered on a vision to leverage ACG’s programs, collaborations, and partnerships to make a meaningful contribution to Greece’s ability to meet this challenge. Two central components of the plan – the Institute for Hellenic Culture and the Liberal Arts and the Institute for Hellenic Growth and Prosperity – are designed to empower ACG’s liberal arts-based education rooted in distinctive Hellenic values, address public policy and other barriers inhibiting Greek economic growth, and support the sustainable development of key economic sectors in Greece.
The ACG 150 Strategic Plan also projects acquiring new and enhancing existing academic and co-curricular facilities, developing new and supporting current academic and community outreach programs (e.g., STEM; Public Health and Health Sciences, online education) acquiring, retaining, and supporting leading scholar-teachers; assuring student access through need-based and merit-based financial aid, to transformative experiences, such as Parallel Study, inbound and outbound study abroad, and corporate internships.
A comprehensive fundraising campaign, ACG 150 Futureproof Greece, aims to raise $75 million by 2025 to fund these priorities. To date, we have raised nearly $17M, with almost $30M pending in current donor proposals.
TNH: How is the collaboration of Greece and the United States in education?
DH: The current government is pursuing a more extensive collaboration in higher education between Greece and the United States. This is an area of tremendous potential as evidenced by ACG’s experience, i.e., in 2019 (prior to the pandemic), 1,061 students who studied abroad at ACG, 916 came from the United States. The most significant percentage of U.S. students came from US News & World Report classified ‘national universities’ (26% of US national universities sent study abroad students to ACG in 2019). Still, we received students from all categories (regional universities, national and regional liberal arts colleges, community colleges).
In other words, there is potential for mutually beneficial exchange between Greece and the United States across a range of institutions. Study abroad has been the fastest-growing segment of ACG’s student body; although still a relatively small percentage of our overall enrollment, it is a priority area for the future. We are also pursuing other collaborations with the U.S. higher education system, i.e., academic program partnerships, faculty exchange, technology transfer for Greek economic development.
TNH: How many years have you been in Greece? Do you feel Greek by now?
DH: I am in my 13th year at ACG. I was first drawn to Greek thought as an undergraduate studying Greek philosophy, which I also studied in graduate school. I was struck by the Greeks’ pursuit of life’s biggest questions, i.e., what is good, true, just, beautiful?
In my PhD studies in American higher education at Stanford, I developed a deep appreciation for Greece’s role in the tradition that gave birth to European and, ultimately, U.S. colleges and universities.
Since 2008, I have worked with over 800 Greek colleagues whose zest for life, competence, and dedication to ACG’s mission have astounded and attracted me. Greece has become very personal for me.
I would be proud to be considered Greek.