Eastern Oregon University’s potential new partnership with Pearson, an online program management company, doesn’t come without a host of questions. Namely, how the current students and faculty will be impacted.

The conversation between the two entities has just begun. A final decision is expected in May about whether to invest in the company with the goal of boosting the enrollment and retention numbers for the online program.

The EOU Board of Trustees and Pearson didn’t have many answers to questions regarding the impacts of this partnership at their board meeting last week.

Several professors of the university submitted public comments before the EOU presentation for the new partnership.

Joe Corsini, a biology professor at EOU, said he was there to speak for his department and the chemistry department.

“We’re very concerned about the for-profit business getting their way in delivery of education,” Corsini said to the board. “I think, big picture, I just want to make sure you are all aware learning is what we do here. It’s what we sell, if you will. The degradation of learning because of the profit motors is what a lot of us are concerned about.”

Corsini said if the university were to cut back on how it delivers the curriculum and the expectations of the students to save money, it could have negative impacts.

EOU history professor and La Grande City Councilor Nicole Howard told The Observer she absolutely has reservations about the partnership.

“While faculty recognize that EOU needs to improve enrollment numbers, I think the Pearson deal would be devastating for Eastern and would dramatically change our character and our regional mission,” Howard wrote in an email.

The partnership proposal comes after EOU’s announcement it wants to have 5,000 full-time equivalent online students by 2029. The school is hoping to attract adults who are working full time but want to pursue a degree.

A jump in online enrollment will hopefully show a boost in more students on campus as well, according to school officials. However, more students means a higher need for professors. The current faculty are having a hard time predicting whether the small class sizes that EOU boasts will change.

“Primarily, I worry about what 5,000 new full-time, online students (or 8,000-10,000 part-time students) means for our campus and our community,” Howard wrote. “Many struggling schools have been brought into the fold of for-profit companies, only to see their physical campus close while the online university continues. As a city councilor, I can’t help but imagine what this change would mean for the City of La Grande. A decline in campus numbers — both faculty and students — has a negative multiplier effect on the community as a whole. Everyone would feel it.”

At the board of trustees meeting, David Nelson, who sits as Chair of the board, said the board is very concerned about the impacts of the partnership as well.

“You’ll hear the board has the same concerns,” he said. “This is just a proposal, and we’ll take our time with it.”

Nelson said the university board is responsible for the financial stability of the institution.

“We’re taking this seriously,” Nelson said.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer