In Memoriam: Rita Turner, 1930-2021

Rita Turner, who with her husband Bernie founded Walden University in 1970, passed on April 10 in Naples Florida. She was 90 years old.

The Turners had the idea for non-traditional graduate degrees for working professionals and it filled a major void in higher education. Students would take classes during the summer months, first at a hotel in Naples, and then continue their studies at home. The Turners also founded the Florida Coastal School of Law in 1996 in Jacksonville.

In 1982, the Tuners moved Walden headquarters to Minneapolis, In 2002 Sylvan Learning Systems bought a controlling interest in the for-profit university. It is in the process of being acquired by Adtalem Global Education, formerly the DeVry Education group. Today Walden offers 80 degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. In 2019, 13,370 degrees were awarded across all undergraduate and graduate programs at Walden University. More than 48,000 students were enrolled. Since its founding, Walden University has granted degrees to about 150,000 individuals.

In a statement, Ward Ulmer, president, and Paula Singer, CEO of Walden University, said that Rita Turner was “deeply passionate about the power of higher education to create social change. Her vision and tireless work helped transform Walden from a radical idea to a regionally accredited university and created the foundation for the global community of scholar-practitioners we are today.”


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