Home Corfu economy Interview with Scott Sprenger, President of the American University of

Interview with Scott Sprenger, President of the American University of


Wanted in Rome asks AUR President Scott Sprenger a few questions.

By Marco Venturini

WiR: What is your personal and professional experience with Italy?

SS: Before starting my role as President of the American University of Rome in August 2020, my experience with Italy was limited. In a previous professor and dean position in Utah, I regularly taught a course on Italian cinema and had administrative supervision of a study abroad program in Siena. One of the most glorious weeks of my life, in fact, was an inadvertent trip that included several days of cycling around Tuscany. Before that, I had made a few trips to Italy as a student and tourist, notably to Rome in 1979, and hitchhiking from Brindisi to France (via Yugoslavia, Greece and Corfu) when I was very young, and when hitchhiking was still considered OK. I will never forget the beautiful countryside and the experience of meeting nice Italians from different regions and backgrounds.

How has AUR dealt with the covid-19 crisis, what measures has it put in place and have they been successful?

AUR did very well. The sudden plunge into a crisis with no existing processes or protocols was obviously a pressure cooker. Fortunately, my excellent management team quickly came up with academic, technological and security solutions that have served us well throughout the year. Despite AUR’s decision to remain open for business with classroom instruction for the 2020-21 school year, we have had very little disruption (mainly by government decree of temporary closure) and only a handful of infections. I am very happy with the result and how the whole community supported our efforts and respected the necessary protocols and interventions.

What do you think of online education, and do you think it could be a substitute for “in-class” lessons?

This is a complicated question. For some institutions and disciplines – especially where learning is procedural and focused on information transfer – online delivery can be really great. For AUR, however, our educational experience and branding value proposition does not align well with online support. There are four main reasons: 1) our students want to be in Rome, not on a sofa in the basement, in order to benefit directly from the local resources of the city; 2) our educational value derives from lateral learning that comes from small, discussion-based classes and close mentorships between faculty and students; and 3) we value the diversity and learning that comes from the lively and often nervous interaction between students and faculty around the world; 4) We have many creative and experiential disciplines requiring onsite presence and / or access to equipment, such as filmmaking and digital media, studio art, archeology, and even language. It is difficult to teach these courses meaningfully online.

What do you think are the main challenges facing the education sector in the post-pandemic world?

Beyond halting short-term student mobility, the pandemic has, in many ways, only accelerated long-term trends already in place. The biggest challenge since the 2008-2009 financial crisis has been the intense attention of students and parents to the “return on investment” of a college degree. In practical terms, this focus on ROI means intense price sensitivity and a lot more emphasis on career-oriented degrees, such as business or STEM. A second challenge is the declining student demographics and fierce global competition for students. This, combined with the emergence of large recruiting agencies, is putting downward pressure on tuition fees and a higher demand for career-friendly study programs. Managing these market pressures while remaining true to AUR’s liberal arts mission will be key to our success.

What are the benefits of having an American education?

Besides the most obvious benefit of learning in English – the lingua franca of the global economy – the American system differs in two ways: we pay very close attention to the learning needs and aspirations of individual students – advising them on how best to align their personal interests, values ​​and their motivation with their career choices. The American system also places great emphasis on the balance between specialized learning (the major), general and interdisciplinary learning (general education) and personalized learning (elective, the minor). While many students wish to focus only on a professional specialization, employers and labor law researchers tell us that this American-style, interdisciplinary learning approach is optimal for developing knowledge, characteristics, attitudes and skills. skill sets valued by employers and which better serve students. interests over a lifetime and a career.

What are the strengths of AUR? What does AUR have to offer prospective students?

AUR’s strengths lie in its close-knit community, the diversity of its student body and faculty, and the many opportunities for discovery and self-discovery, as an individual. We are located in one of the most interesting cities in the world and we have an outstanding international faculty and student body of over 50 nationalities represented on our small campus. This diversity of backgrounds, experiences, cultures and perspectives is at the heart of what makes the AUR learning community different and exciting. Our emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness and the small size of our classes ensure that every voice is heard.

Would you like to recruit more foreign students or residents?

For me, all students who come to AUR are AUR students; all students bring interesting perspectives to the AUR class. Having said that, my first priority last fall was to develop and launch a new strategic student resident recruitment plan. This effort has already paid off with a historically high number of student recruits for fall 2021. Hopefully the covid doesn’t spoil that. We have also worked in parallel to think creatively about expanding and improving our study abroad partnerships and transfer channels. The pandemic made it clear to me that we need to balance our student body between these three cohorts, both for institutional sustainability and for a more rewarding student experience.

Are Italian students a potential marketing target?

They are already being recruited. Our distinguishing feature of Italian universities, besides the American curriculum taught in English, is a much clearer focus on individual learning aspirations, faculty mentoring, and small interactive classrooms. Another is that students don’t need to choose a career path from the start. The American system is part of an exploratory period and offers flexibility to change careers without wasting time. Italians also have the added benefit of being able to earn a four-year American degree in three years. About 20 percent of our current students are Italian and everyone who studied with us in the past has excelled both academically and personally.

Do you see any differences between the two main Italian cities (Rome and Milan) in terms of training offer and would you consider starting in Milan?

I haven’t thought about this question. It’s not in our current planning, but I never say never.

What do you think the role of AUR should be in Rome?

AUR, the premier American university in Rome, should continue to communicate the value of traditional liberal arts education in Rome, Italy and the world. We also want to be good citizens and strategic partners with local and international institutions. We want to continue to be the go-to institution for expert media commentary on current events and for research partnerships. Finally, as we have indicated before, we want to offer an alternative type of education to Italian students who, like most students, are looking for an inspiring and enriching, even transformative experience.