Former strayer university owner gives back to students through bailey family foundation gas house eggs


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.