Dr. John Sperling Reinvented Adult Education

In 1974, a group of teachers and policemen enrolled in a government-funded course intended to reduce juvenile delinquency. The group was hungry for more education — they wanted advanced degrees, but in the 1970s, their options were limited. They could enter a college system designed for recent high school graduates and earn a degree in six years — if they were lucky — but that didn’t work for most of them.

To meet the needs of these underserved learners, Apollo Education Group and its affiliated organizations have spent years working outside of the higher education box, revolutionizing higher education for students that traditional colleges did not serve.

Apollo developed online education opportunities for students in the early ‘90s, well before Internet-based learning was an accepted alternative to the classroom. At a time when colleges and universities expected students to accommodate the needs of faculty, Apollo instead created a higher education model built around the needs of its students: working adults.

Apollo Education Group made huge breakthroughs in the field of distance learning, often doing so years before similar technologies appeared in the mainstream. These innovations include online education (the first class graduated in 1991), online doctoral programs (1991), educational e-books (2001), a social network for learners, and mobile education.

Apollo’s founder, Dr. John Sperling, understood the challenges of learning as an adult, because he experienced his own struggles with education. As a teenager, he was virtually illiterate, leaving high school at the age of 18 to join the Merchant Marines as an engine room “wiper.” His life changed when a ship’s engineer befriended him and taught him to read. After he left the Armed Forces, he went to college on the G.I. Bill. He later went on to earn his doctorate, and began work in 1960 as a professor of history at San Jose State University.

Under his leadership, Apollo redefined and developed the role of practitioner faculty in the classroom, bringing in working professionals to teach classes in their fields. Apollo, and its subsidiary, University of Phoenix, introduced the idea of local satellite campuses, deliberately positioning campuses near major transit routes to allow easy access to adults pursuing their degrees after work.

A visionary and a pioneer, Dr. Sperling dedicated his life to adult education. His vision of a higher education system that welcomed working students is responsible for more than four decades of innovations in adult education and distance learning, and has made advanced degrees accessible to working students.

This legacy, and Dr. Sperling’s more than 40 years of experience in the field of higher education, is the inheritance of everyone at Apollo Education Group today.