1931 – 1996
Audrey Cohen, founder and president of Audrey Cohen College in New York City, was an internationally recognized educator who stood at the vanguard of education and social policy for almost forty years. Impelled by a vision of a better world, she developed a system of education based on the principle that people learn best when they use their learning to achieve purposes that improve the world.
Born on May 14, 1931, in Pittsburgh, Audrey Cohen was the daughter of Abe and Esther (Morgan) Cohen, both religiously observant Jews. She was raised in Pittsburgh and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh and did postgraduate work at George Washington University and Harvard University. In 1958, she founded Part Time Research Associates, a social science research corporation employing only women. Early on, Cohen recognized the need for college-educated women to have flexible work schedules allowing them to care for their families.
While living in New York City during the early 1960s, Cohen focused on developing training programs to meet the requirements of the emerging service economy. In 1964, she founded the Women’s Talent Corps, an organization that designed new jobs for the service economy (including the first paralegal and educational assistant positions) and combined study with on-the-job training. Building upon that organization’s dramatic success in assisting low-income women, Cohen and her colleagues then developed an entirely new approach to education. They envisioned education as a continuum extending from kindergarten to the graduate level, with each level achieving, in the world outside of the classroom, a purpose that was crucial to life and work.
In 1964, the Talent Corps developed into a private, fully accredited coeducational institution of higher learning initially called the College for Human Services and later renamed Audrey Cohen College. By 1979, the college was offering bachelor’s degrees in the human services. In 1983, the college initiated a business degree program, and in 1988, it began offering a master’s program in administration. Also in 1983, the college’s Purpose-Centered System of Education® began to be adapted for elementary and secondary education.
Audrey Cohen received numerous awards in recognition of her educational work, including the Mina Shaughnessy Scholarship Award from the United States Office of Education, the Outstanding Leadership in Higher Education Award from the Committee of Independent Colleges and Universities, the President’s Award from the National Organization of Human Service Educators, and a doctorate of humane letters from the University of New England. During her lifetime, she published numerous articles and pamphlets. Her book, To Build a Better World, was completed shortly before she died.
Cohen had two daughters, Winifred Alisa Cohen and Dawn Jennifer Cohen Margolin, by her first marriage, to Mark Cohen. She is survived by them and her second husband, Dr. Ralph Wharton, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City.
Cohen’s commitment to educational reform demonstrated that she was a person of unusual courage, persistence, and vision. In addition to creating a new system of education, she instilled in others a willingness to inquire deeply into the proper goals and methods of learning.
Cohen, Audrey. Archives. Audrey Cohen College, NYC, and To Build a Better World (1997); Obituary. NYTimes, March 12, 1996.