Excelsior College’s First Commencement

On September 27, 1972, at 4 p.m., an audience of 500 gathered in Chancellors Hall at the State Education Department Building in Albany, New York, for the first-ever commencement of the Regents External Degree Program. A total of 77 men and women had accomplished what just two years prior, the new State Education Commissioner Ewald B. Nyquist had said should be possible: receiving degrees based on learning, not seat time, and awarded by the most unconventional university anywhere.

Alan Pifer, president of the Carnegie Corporation — which along with the Ford Foundation provided major grants to develop the Regents External Degree Program — delivered the Commencement address. He described higher education as “The development of a refined capacity for thought, expression, and sensitivity … something to be discovered and used by individuals of all ages to make their lives more interesting and enjoyable, more purposeful, and more rewarding to themselves and society at large.”

After the event, The New York Times reported the students received their degrees “from a university without campus, buildings, or professors.”