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8/3/2017 5:16:00 PM
ISU considers partner for distance education

Sue Loughlin, Tribune-Star

Indiana State University is considering hiring an outside company — Pearson Embanet — to increase student enrollment through online criminal justice and public health programs.

The company, which provides online learning services for schools, colleges and universities worldwide, was on campus recently to meet with employees of offices and departments that would be affected, if the partnership moves forward. The possibility has raised questions and concerns on the part of some faculty and staff.

“There were a lot of people worked up about things,” said DeVere Woods, chairman of the criminology/criminal justice department. At this point, he said he’s not for or against it. “I haven’t really seen anything to evaluate. They have proposed a number of things, some I think could be implemented, others I don’t think are practical.” 

Last week, Provost Michael Licari stated in an email to the Tribune-Star, “Pearson is a prospective vendor, and we are in the exploratory stages of determining whether their services could be used by some of Indiana State’s online programs.”

On Wednesday, ISU President Dan Bradley provided additional detail. As part of the university’s strategic plan, “We indicated we were going to at least evaluate whether having a partner in distance education would be in our best interest,” he said.

Over the past three or four years, ISU has talked to several companies, he said, and most recently, Pearson Embanet. A “pilot” effort would involve four programs — bachelor’s and master’s in both criminology and public health.

Pearson’s role would be limited to marketing/recruiting and coaching, Bradley said. “They are not providers of education ... What they bring to the table is the expertise in marketing and recruiting distance students.” Pearson Embanet has worked with Arizona State University and Ohio University.

The company also does not do academic advising and it “does not get involved in classroom things,” Bradley said. If ISU contracts with the company, no ISU faculty or staff would lose jobs, he said.

By coaching, he explained the company would follow through in such areas as ensuring students pre-registered, attended classes or filled out forms necessary for financial aid. Pearson would not admit students or provide financial aid, and students would be considered ISU students enrolled in ISU programs.

The Pearson Embanet brand would not be used in its recruiting/marketing, Bradley said.

Bradley and others from Indiana State visited Pearson Embanet offices in Orlando earlier this summer to learn more about the operation. “We’re still in courtship. They want to make sure we can do what we say because they are going to spend a lot of money in the recruiting end, and if we can’t handle the students, they wouldn’t be very interested in being partners with us.”

Financially, the company would want a percentage of tuition revenue, and typically that would be about 50 percent of tuition revenue resulting from the new, online students. The company will have to spend a lot of money on the front end for recruiting and advertising, Bradley said.

He anticipates much discussion on campus this fall, particularly with departments affected. “We’re going to vet this really carefully,” he said. He hopes to have a decision by December and while it could probably be made administratively, the matter is “significant enough” he would want trustees to act on it.

Trustees have supported investigating use of Pearson Embanet’s services, he said. With Bradley stepping down as president in January, trustees will want feedback from the provost and next president, he said.

“I’ll probably get a voice in the decision, but it won’t be my decision,” Bradley said. “I think the people who are going to live it have to be the people that make the decision” about whether it is the right path to pursue.

If ISU moves forward, the earliest it could be implemented would be fall of 2018.

While details must still be worked out, “I think [Pearson Embanet] is very competent at what they do. I would not have any problem with them representing us in the areas of recruitment and coaching role,” the president said.

Much of their recruitment is online, which is how most marketing and recruiting is done for distance ed students, he said. What ISU concentrates on is direct marketing and visits to high schools and college fairs. But distance students aren’t in high school for the most part, he said.

Why the need for additional online students?

“I think we need to accelerate our growth in this area. They have a proven track records at being able to recruit students,” Bradley said. ISU’s new goal as part of its strategic plan is to have 16,000 students by 2021, but the majority of the growth will be in online enrollment.

Bradley recognizes there will be disagreement, but at the same time, “I don’t think we have the marketing and advertising ability they have. They are very good at getting people to the door and very helpful at keeping them engaged” and progressing in the program, he said.

ISU must grow its enrollment, the president said.

“The reality is we either grow or we shrink, because given the declining support from government, we have to depend on enrollment growth ... If we don’t grow our enrollment, the number of employees here in the long term will shrink, not grow,” he said.

“If enrollment stays the same and our state appropriation stays the same, then inflation will kill us,” Bradley said.

He believes the growth in online programs “will allow us to hire people. We’ll hire a lot of people, actually,” including part-time instructors and support staff.

Some on campus are worried that ISU won’t be able to handle the influx of students, but the growth would come gradually, Bradley said. He suggested enrollment of about 1,500 students in the four online programs over four to five years.

Unless ISU can stabilize its state appropriation on a per student and adjusted-for-inflation basis, “We’ve got to keep growing,” he said. With the numbers of high school graduates in the Midwest remaining flat or declining, the best way to grow is through the distance education market, he said.

Shannon Barton, a criminology professor and graduate coordinator, said the discussion is in the preliminary stages. “We just want to ensure the quality of our programs is foremost in any decision-making, should this go forward,” she said.

If there are more students, more faculty would be needed, she said. Maintaining quality would require additional support and adequate resources to keep class sizes low and to maintain program rigor.

Woods, the criminology department chair, said hiring Pearson Embanet “would be a significant step, so certainly I have concerns as I would with anything starting out ... but to judge at this point, I can’t” because no specific proposal has been brought forward.

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