Alyssa Sutton

At Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the Eastern Oregon University Board of Trustees, President Tom Insko and Executive Director of Regional Outreach and Innovation David Vande Pol presented their most recent progress in attaining an online program management partnership for the university.

Insko’s and Vande Pol’s teams have made the decision that Pearson Online Learning Services is the OPM company they want to work with.

“A (request for proposal) was issued in August and followed established EOU guidelines,” Tim Seydel, EOU’s vice president of university advancement, told The Observer. “The Learning House and Pearson Online Services were invited to campus for initial presentations to university leadership. Following onsite visits with both companies, we then elected to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of services and opportunities with Pearson.”

According to Vande Pol, the reason for partnering with an online program management company is simple: to increase enrollment.

“The message is clear,” he said. “Enrollment is down with no evidence of an uptick in sight nor additional help from the state coffers. (Universities) are recognizing that they are having decreasing enrollment and there are more programs in demand in the online space.”

Vande Pol said that there has been a shift in demographics, and what was previously regarded as the non-traditional student has become the traditional student.”

More and more students are earning at least part of their degrees through online programs.

“Things are only going to get more competitive in the online space, especially for smaller universities without brand recognition,” Vande Pol said, explaining why he believes the university should partner with an OPM.

“Only the nimble and innovative will survive, and hopefully thrive,” he said.

Insko said that when Pearson first brought their proposal to the table, it didn’t meet his expectations, but that they were responsive to what he was looking for.

“They went to work on it and they’re coming back Monday,” he said.

Pearson staff have visited the campus four times to date, and Insko said they have been having “various degrees of conversation” with both administration and faculty.

Vande Pol told the board that he contacted multiple other universities that have partnered with Pearson –– including Ohio University and Washington State University, which are current partners, and Dartmouth, which hasn’t yet agreed to partner with Pearson, but is considering it. All have responded favorably. Vande Pol said other partners he spoke with have run into issues with Pearson by not negotiating enough in the beginning and as a result are now losing out on some of their tuition revenue, and intellectual property has been an issue for a few partners.

According to Justia.com — a website specializing in legal information retrieval — Pearson has been involved in 250 intellectual property lawsuits.

The Observer contacted Bob Daemmrich Photography, one company that had filed a lawsuit against Pearson for copyright infringement.

“I can’t say much about it,” said Bob Daemmrich, owner of the Texas company, who filed a copyright infringement suit against Pearson. “We came to a satisfactory settlement.”

Vande Pol said he asked the partnering universities why they chose to work with Pearson.

“They said it’s because it’s the most risk averse approach, and because (Pearson) put the capital up front and they don’t get paid unless they perform,” he said.

The trustees had a few questions about Pearson, mostly about what the process would be once integration began, and why Insko had created such a short timeframe to determine if a partnership with Pearson would be beneficial for the university.

“I think we have a sense of urgency to address our enrollment issues,” Insko said. “The longer we wait, the more risk we have.”

Insko said he would like the decision to be made before the next school year, and since there is only one more board meeting scheduled before summer when many leave campus, he may call a special meeting.

“But I have been very clear with the campus community that I will not rush a decision,” he added. “We are going to make the right decision at the end of this.”

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