Brandman University Completes Transition as UMass Global

Over a year ago UMass Online – the centralized online education unit of the University of Massachusetts system – announced without details a new initiative based on online education for working adults.

The University of Massachusetts will partner with a California university to launch a national online college for adult learners.

UMass announced Tuesday that it will work with Brandman University, a private, nonprofit institution, to expand the state public university system’s online presence.

I described in my initial post the background of this initiative, starting in March 2019 leading to an Online Program Management (OPM) Request for Information (RFI), and I speculated on what the deal would likely mean. Essentially a variation on the Global Campus approach taken by Purdue Global and University of Arizona Global that involved the acquisition of an existing primarily-online university. 1

Today the deal has been finalized, and there is a new model in the Global Campus movement. In a nutshell, Brandman University has separated from Chapman University to become an independent nonprofit institution renamed UMass Global, and it is an affiliate of the University of Massachusetts system. This new entity will remain focused on help working adults obtain degrees, whether with new degrees or to complete work that they had already started.

The best direct description of what the actual changes are comes from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and its February report.

As explained above, Brandman University has been affiliated with Chapman University although both institutions are separately WASC accredited, each independently operated, and each holds approval from the Commission to sponsor educator preparation programs. However, Chapman had maintained the authority, within Brandman’s bylaws, to appoint the majority of the seats on the Brandman Board of Regents.

The structural change approved by WASC in 2020 for Brandman University is comprised of two basic changes: 1) a change of the composition of the Board of Regents, and 2) a change in affiliation from Chapman University to University of Massachusetts which will result in a name change to UMass Global.

Change of Control

Name Change and Affiliation

The structural change is not a merger nor acquisition by the University of Massachusetts, but rather a new affiliation. Under its new name, UMass Global, will remain a WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) accredited nonprofit institution headquartered in Irvine, California. Its affiliated institution, the University of Massachusetts, remains separately accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

This structure is a new model that probably has more in common with the recent acquisition of Grantham University by the University of Arkansas system than the OPM-based Purdue and Arizona deals. The Grantham deal was described at Inside Higher Ed last month.

The University of Arkansas system is poised to acquire the online, for-profit Grantham University if the system Board of Trustees approves the deal this morning, as expected.

The 15-institution system has worked to build a robust online education presence for some time, and currently offers 24 undergraduate credentials through its in-house online program eVersity. Bringing Grantham into the Arkansas system as a stand-alone institution would up the number of available credentials to 60, introduce online graduate programs and expand its current virtual enrollment of about 800 students by approximately 4,000.

An acquisition is “the quickest way to expand as opposed to pouring in lots of money to those efforts,” said Michael Moore, vice president of academic affairs for the system and chief operating and academic officer for eVersity. “You can certainly grow a program that way, but it’s expensive and incremental.”

A nonprofit state system of higher education with an existing centralized service unit for online education acquires (whether by direct purchase or change of control & affiliation) an existing, primarily online accredited university, keeping the existing institution and its leadership largely intact, to more quickly expand its online offerings aimed at working adults. Where UMass Global and differ is that Brandman University is not a for-profit institution 2, and the new UMass Global is an independent affiliated institution rather than a transfer of assets acquisition.

The other significant difference is based on enrollment trends, as at the time of Global Campus creation, Purdue Global / Kaplan (2018), U Arizona Global / Ashford (2020), and U Arkansas / Grantham (2021) were all declining whereas UMass Global / Brandman has been increasing (based on the latest IPEDS data). Where this matters is in the amount of investment needed in marketing, student support, and operational changes to reverse the trends – as Purdue Global appears to have done.

While this transaction is not technically an acquisition, Brandman University is separating from its parent Chapman University and there is no residual OPM contract. Based on an interview with Don Kilburn, CEO of UMass Online, part of the deal to create UMass Global is that the institution will pay Chapman University $96 million over a 10-year period, with most of that funded in years 6 – 10. In addition, UMass Global will purchase the Irvine, California headquarters location for $37 million. The plans are for the new school to fund the two Chapman University liabilities from its own operating funds (but the UMass system would be on the hook to make up any difference if UMass Global cannot make those payments). UMass Global will keep its own revenue, without any planned payments to the University of Massachusetts, although the UMass Global board could change operating plans in the future.

The existing UMass Online, which spearheaded this deal, will remain as a service organization supporting the four UMass campuses with their online programs. While there are no official services from UMass Online to UMass Global or vice virsa, there is an expectation of knowledge transfer and information sharing.

Strut Learning, the for-profit CBE platform company owned by Brandman will now be owned by UMass Global. Strut is the platform provided for Calbright College in California, the online community college that began operations in 2019.

Like the other Global Campuses, UMass Global is focused on working adults getting degrees and workforce credentials. One challenge for all of these deals has been the concern that the new mostly-online units would compete with existing system online programs, and I suspect this will be true for UMass Global as well. I have not seen public commentary on Massachusetts oversight or campus community forums, and it is not clear how many details have been shared with existing UMass campuses. But I will be quite interested to see this public reaction now that the transaction is complete.

While UMass Global represents a new model for the Global Campus movement, the core characteristic remains. Existing nonprofit university systems are increasingly impatient with the growth of existing online programs and seek to use outside schools and creative transactions to quickly grow their online presence.

1 Brandman offers online, hybrid, and on-campus courses, but more than 80% are fully online.

2 And thus not being an actual nonprofit conversion