Brandman University, online institution for adults, to become UMass Global

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In March 2019, the president of the University of Massachusetts system announced with great fanfare that he was planning to create an online-only college that would become one of the few major national players in online education with a strong footprint. regional. “It’s time to act,” Martin Meehan said at the time.

It took two and a half years, discussions with over 100 potential partners, and a lot of paperwork, but Meehan and UMass finally have their college online. They announced Thursday that Brandman University, a private, non-profit institution in California that serves more than 10,000 students online and in 25 physical locations, will become UMass Global. It will be affiliated with the public university system but governed as a private institution under an independent board of regents. UMass expects its visibility and reputation, especially in the North East, to help Brandman reach more adult learners across the country.

As part of the unusual arrangement, UMass will not make any upfront payments. Chapman University – which established Brandman in 1958 to serve military service members and other non-traditional students – will receive a total of approximately $ 130 million over 10 years in exchange for the Brandman property and building at from which it operates in Irvine, California. payments will come from Brandman, but “backed” by UMass when needed, said Don Kilburn, CEO of UMass Online, which serves as a clearinghouse for online programs on four of the system’s five campuses and will also work with UMass Global.

Aligning with Brandman, UMass becomes the latest public university to make an aggressive foray into the adult learner education and training market, following the purchase of Kaplan University by the Purdue University in 2017, the University of Arizona’s acquisition last year of Ashford University and ambitious plans in Missouri, Louisiana and more recently Arkansas.

All have observed the massive market of tens of millions of adults who do not have a college degree but need education and training to enter or thrive in the workforce, hundreds of thousands of whom are now enrolled in national nonprofit institutions such as Southern New Hampshire University. or Western Governors University. Others – although far fewer than ten years ago – are enrolled in for-profit institutions.

Brandman is much smaller than the governors of southern New Hampshire and the western world, but Kilburn said he attracted UMass with his good grades (58% of his students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in eight years and 22 % more transferred) and low student default rate (5.2 percent).

Kilburn said the structure of the deal meant UMass would avoid some of the perception and structural issues that plagued Purdue and Arizona, which sought to turn former for-profit institutions into public institutions, while maintaining commercial relationships. with the online program companies that spawned them.

“By keeping it as a non-profit organization and not having to work with an external for-profit organization [online program management company], we think that solves some of the problems elsewhere, ”Kilburn said. “This structure is different and could become an alternative for private institutions wishing to align with audiences.

Long and winding road

The path to the UMass / Brandman deal has seen many twists and turns. UMass hired Kilburn, a former Pearson Education executive, in 2017 to help it become a bigger player in online education, as Meehan’s statement officially reported in March 2019.

Rumors abounded that UMass was looking to buy one of the many for-profit online institutions that are increasingly looking for a non-profit home. But the combination of Massachusetts politics and a changing regulatory environment in Washington has made this unlikely.

UMass announced over a year ago that it would establish a “strategic partnership” with Brandman, but did not suggest at the time that it would buy or absorb the California institution. In retrospect, it’s clear that the challenges of creating a new structure and getting it through the federal regulatory process (especially with the Trump administration’s transition to an understaffed Biden administration) contributed to the delay. .

The UMass / Brandman arrangement differs from those that preceded it. UMass Global will not be a public institution integrated into its state’s university system, as is the case with established online institutions like the University of Maryland Global Campus or the recently established Purdue University Global, which grew out of the purchase of old for-profit institutions.

Instead, UMass Global will be an “affiliate” of the UMass system, managed by a board of directors which is represented by, but not controlled by, UMass. UMass Board Chairman Robert J. Manning will chair the UMass Global Board of Directors.

This structure is similar to that of the University of Arizona global campus, which resulted from the sale of the University of Ashford. But UMass Global and Arizona Global will differ in that the latter is contractually obligated to pay the for-profit company that sold it, Zovio Education, to run much of the university’s operations online, an arrangement that sparked Controversy. UMass Global will not have such an arrangement. (Note: The previous three paragraphs have been updated to clarify that the University of Arizona Global Campus is an independent rather than a public institution.)

UMass Global will retain its accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (which approved the change of control last fall). Gary Brahm, Chancellor of Brandman, will remain in charge of UMass Global.

Chapman, who founded Brandman, will receive $ 96 million over 10 years, paid by Brandman from his earnings. Brandman will also pay $ 37 million to buy his building in Chapman. Most payments begin in the sixth year of the deal, Kilburn said.

The combined institution will enjoy greater brand awareness, which should help UMass Global reach a larger and larger audience than Brandman’s approximately 10,000 current students in 45 states, UMass officials said.

“By marrying these two institutions, we expect to see a fairly robust growth rate in the Northeast,” said Katherine S. Newman, System Chancellor for University Programs at UMass.

Newman said UMass Global would build on Brandman’s current offerings, which focus on earning a degree for working adults, refreshing and building the skills of career changers (including for career changers). companies like Walmart and Disney that Brandman currently works with through Guild Education), international apprenticeship, and early college programs.

Newman’s comments on “robust growth” raised a yellow flag for Stephanie Hall, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who follows higher education policy. Hall noted that in documents analyzing the proposed arrangement between UMass and Brandman, officials from the US Department of Education feared that too rapid growth could put students at risk.

It’s a common concern for regulators in the wake of the high-speed growth of some for-profit institutions in the 1990s and 2000s, and Hall said the tension would be “something to watch” in the future.

Hall acknowledged, however, that, based on information shared about the deal, the UMass Global-Brandman approach seemed to avoid some of the issues raised by mergers – such as those involving Purdue and Arizona – between public universities and the news. spin-off nonprofit institutions. by technology companies that continue to provide services to the merged institution.


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