March 7, 2023: Discover how Waldorf University is maximizing the power of Freedom Writers

Hello USDLA friends,

It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Robert A. Alsop, the 16th president of Waldorf University, pictured right. He began his duties on September 1, 2011. In 2020, Dr. Alsop started working with world-renowned educator and founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation, Erin Gruwell, alongside life-long educator Dr. Freda Braddock, to develop Waldorf’s Master of Education in Social Emotional Learning.

A firm believer in SEL, Dr. Alsop’s passion for educating the whole student and providing a place for Erin’s original class of students to achieve resulted in a world-class SEL graduate program and a powerful partnership between several thought leaders worldwide of K-12 and collegiate online education.

Scroll down for our Q&A with Dr. Alsop.

Great news: You’ll meet Dr. Alsop and Erin Gruwell at the 2023 USDLA National Conference in Orlando, FL, July 17-20. Register before March 31st for the early bird conference rate and book your hotel now as this year’s conference will have something for anyone involved with distance/digital learning.

See you in Orlando! — Pat Cassella, USDLA Executive Director

Q&A with USDLA: Waldorf University President Dr. Bob Alsop

USDLA: Tell us about your organization. You have a long history. Share that with us, and please tell us about the need your school is filling.

Dr. Alsop: Waldorf University was founded in 1903 in Forest City, Iowa, and over the last decade, has built out a robust suite of fully online programs, including Master’s, Bachelor’s, and Associate degrees, as well as certificates. At Waldorf, we pride ourselves on our student-centered approach to learning, where we:

We value transparency and have no hidden, mandatory fees outside of tuition. 

  • Provide textbooks at no additional cost to our Online students.
  • Establish competitive tuition rates so students can attend a school with high-caliber, professional faculty without spending a fortune.
  • Review all past transcripts and certifications during the application process to ensure you bring over the most transfer credit possible.
  • Offer purpose-driven education for working professionals.

USDLA: What have been your organization’s biggest challenges?

Dr. Alsop: In December of 2022, Waldorf University took the first step in moving from a for-profit to a non-profit institution by changing our ownership from Columbia Southern Education Group to the Waldorf Lutheran College Foundation. Our world-class educators, staff, and leadership remain the same. Still, this opportunity to return to our non-profit roots allows us to build better relationships with other non-profit private universities, accept grants students otherwise would not be eligible to receive, and apply for public monies for research. While this change is certainly positive, having to change systems is a challenge our staff is overcoming while showing their professionalism and commitment.

USDLA: What are the school’s big wins? 

Dr. Alsop: Moving from for-profit to non-profit will be a big win when that process is complete! We have become pioneers in the space for online education for educators. We offer four individual Master of Education programs for teachers and administrators who want to grow personally and professionally. Our programs are fully online and have no set course times, so our students achieve their degrees on schedule. In recent years, Waldorf University had the privilege of partnering with world-renowned educator and founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation, Erin Gruwell, to develop our M. Ed in Social Emotional Learning. We were able to provide all the original Freedom Writers students from Erin’s classroom with a full scholarship to our M. Ed program and continue to support those educators who go through the Freedom Writers Foundation Institute with Waldorf University credit and a discount on tuition for those who wish to apply those credits towards their M. Ed in Social Emotional Learning.

USDLA: Who is your ideal student, and how has the business grown in recent years?

Dr. Alsop: We strive to serve those students who need flexibility in higher education and provide non-traditional college students with a quality, affordable education so they can achieve their goals.

USDLA: What does the future look like for your organization?

Dr. Alsop: Waldorf University’s future is bright. As we continue down this path to becoming a non-profit institution, we will continue to grow our online and on-campus programs, hire faculty that are thought-leaders in their field, and develop additional symbiotic relationships within the education community. Our values are centered on helping our students succeed, so we will continue to strive every day to be the best resource for our students and for our community.

About Dr. Alsop: Bob joined Waldorf College in 1998 after receiving a Ph.D. in English from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. During his tenure at Waldorf, Dr. Alsop has served in various roles, including Associate Professor of English, Chair of the English Department, Director of the Honors College, Assistant Academic Dean of the College, and most recently, Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs.

A native of Duluth, MN, Dr. Alsop earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, in 1989 and a master’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL, in 1993. He has a long record of scholarship in American and Renaissance Literature that has been published or presented at regional, national, and international conferences. He received several awards for his teaching, including The Board of Trustees Outstanding Faculty Award and the Phi Theta Kappa Professor of the Year Award.

Click here to learn more about Waldorf

About Freedom Writers Founder Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell is a teacher, author, and activist fighting for social justice for over two decades. She first gained national attention in 1998 when she and her 150 students appeared on an ABC special–PrimeTime Live–with Connie Chung.

Erin’s students – affectionately called the Freedom Writers – came from backgrounds of poverty, gangs, and violence, and many were at risk of dropping out of school due to the school-to-prison pipeline. But, under Erin’s guidance, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and pursued higher education.

In 1999, Erin and the Freedom Writers published their book, The Freedom Writers Diary, which detailed their unique journey from hardship to hope. The book became a #1 New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a major motion picture, Freedom Writers, starring two-time Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank as Erin. The film brought Erin’s work to an even wider audience, and she has since used her platform to continue her fight for equity and inclusion with her non-profit, the Freedom Writers Foundation.

Erin’s work has been recognized with several humanitarian awards, including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award. Erin and the Freedom Writers have appeared on multiple television shows to promote educational reform, including Oprah, The View, Good Morning America, and NBC’s TODAY. They have also been featured on National Public Radio, numerous newspapers, and national magazines, such as People. In 2019, Erin and the Freedom Writers were the subjects of the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart. Erin also hosts The Freedom Writers Podcast with guests who are authors, activists, and civil rights icons.

In 2022, Erin and the Freedom Writers Foundation released their latest book, Dear Freedom Writer. This critically acclaimed book combines heartfelt letters written by the next generation of student authors with deeply personal responses from the original Freedom Writers.

Be it in the classroom, or otherwise, Erin’s powerful message of hope and possibility is sure to resonate with any audience, whom she encourages “to stand up, speak up and speak out.”