University taps students for online brand building success

A North Carolina school is using an online promotional tool to tout its students’ successes to family, news outlets, and potential employers. Brand building is an added benefit.

No one calls. No one writes. Mercifully, only a few still send holiday letters. Instead, digital natives and immigrants alike now head online to share the news of their lives. Fayetteville State University is hoping to capitalize on this reality with an online promotional tool that extolls its students to family, potential employers, and media outlets—and burnishes the university’s brand at the same time.

Part of the North Carolina state college system, NCFSU soft-launched Merit Pages little over a year ago. Developed by a company of the same name based in Albany, NY, the tool creates online student profiles that are optimized for social media and automated distribution. Each student at the school receives his or her own Merit Page, which is populated by the university with information about that student’s achievements.

“It’s a very innovative tool—simple to use—that enables us to recognize and celebrate our students’ accomplishments,” said Dr. Jon Young, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at NCFSU. “It gives students something to share through their social media and allows us to push these achievements out to the press in a really automated way.”

How It Works

Each Merit Page is divided into two sections. The first is controlled entirely by the university and contains official information such as Dean’s List awards, Chancellor’s List honors, and scholarships. The student controls the other portion and can populate it with whatever he or she wishes. “There is a distinction on the page so a viewer can see what the university has put there and what a student has also added,” said Young, who initially worried—erroneously, it turns out—that students would embellish their records.

(Next page: Brand building success in targeting community, employers)

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Blackboard affiliate to acquire Higher One

Acquisition of Higher One will broaden company’s financial services offerings to institutions, students and parents.

Blackboard Inc., an education technology company for teaching, learning and student engagement, today announced that an affiliate of the company has entered into a definitive agreement to purchase Higher One Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: ONE) (“Higher One”). The acquisition will allow for collaboration between CASHNet, the market software leader in secure online payment of tuition and fees, and the Blackboard Transact business line.

CASHNet provides software that simplifies and automates electronic payments across campus. It enables parents and students to electronically pay tuition and fees and establish customized tuition payment plans. In addition, the software enables the creation of online storefronts to support all facets of campus commerce. For almost 30 years, CASHNet has been a trusted and respected partner in the higher education community, serving over 700 campuses and millions of students nationwide.

“CASHNet is a natural complement to Blackboard’s broad portfolio of campus financial solutions,” said David Marr, Senior Vice President of Blackboard Transact. “As part of its mission, Blackboard is focused on supporting institutions in their efforts to enable fundamental access to education. Providing students and parents with a comprehensive set of tools that assist them in managing tuition payments is a critical piece of the access equation.”

Blackboard Transact is the leader in providing campus transaction, security and financial solutions through a fully integrated technology platform that creates a holistic experience for students to navigate and engage in life on and off campus. In collaboration with each other, Higher One and Blackboard will continue to create innovative solutions for institutions, students and parents.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, which has been unanimously approved by the boards of directors of Higher One and Winchester Acquisition Corp., a newly formed subsidiary of Blackboard Inc.’s parent company, Winchester Acquisition Corp. will commence a tender offer for all outstanding shares of common stock of Higher One at a price of $5.15 per share. The all-cash sale price represents an implied equity value of approximately $260 million based on the number of shares outstanding as of the close of business on June 29, 2016. Following the consummation of the tender offer, shares not tendered in the tender offer will be converted in a second step merger into the right to receive $5.15 per share concurrently with the closing of the tender offer. The closing of the tender offer and the second-step merger are subject to customary conditions, including the valid tender of a majority of outstanding shares of common stock of Higher One and receipt of antitrust clearance, and is expected to occur in the third quarter of 2016. There is no financing condition to the consummation of the tender offer or the second-step merger.

Additional Information

The tender offer described in this press release has not yet commenced. This press release is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to purchase or the solicitation of an offer to sell any securities. Winchester Acquisition Corp. (“Purchaser”), a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of an entity (“Blackboard Acquisition”) that is wholly owned by the holding company that owns Blackboard Inc., intends to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) a Tender Offer Statement on Schedule TO containing an offer to purchase, a form of letter of transmittal and other documents relating to the tender offer, and Higher One Holdings, Inc. (“Higher One”) intends to file with the SEC a Solicitation/Recommendation Statement on Schedule 14D-9 with respect to the tender offer. Blackboard Acquisition, Purchaser and Higher One intend to mail these documents without charge to Higher One stockholders. Investors and stockholders should read those filings carefully when they become available as they will contain important information about the tender offer. Those documents may be obtained without charge at the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov when they become available. The offer to purchase, solicitation/recommendation statement, and related materials when they become available may also be obtained without charge by contacting D.F. King & Co., Inc., the information agent for the tender offer, toll-free at (800) 884-5101 (banks and brokers call (212) 269-5550).

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Content analytics platform to help faculty with course content

New analytics features provide real-time insight into how students engage with course content to inform instructional design and link content to outcomes.

Intellus Learning announced today the launch of new content analytics features that will help educators understand how students are engaging with digital course materials and open educational resources. The platform enables faculty and instructional designers to access granular data, in real time, to track how and when students are engaging with academic content during their studies.

Surveys continue to show that cost is a leading reason why students do not purchase assigned textbooks and course materials. To level the playing field and reduce the cost to students, institutions are now using content analytics to maximize affordable academic resources that align with course-level learning objectives. Faculty and instructional designers can leverage these insights to match students with engaging, relevant content, improving student experience and outcomes.

“Affordability is a crucial priority for us at the CSU system, so we’ve undertaken efforts to help faculty use OER and digital content more effectively,” said Vice Provost Dennis Nef of California State University Fresno. “Despite increased investments of time and money in digital content and OER, most faculty and instructional designers have little understanding of how students navigate or respond to individual content items. The Intellus analytics layer brings us one step closer to unbundling content by enabling us to curate and select only from resources that are both instructionally relevant and also highly engaging for students, and better understand how students use that content.”

“We know that student engagement increases as we align course goals and design to industry best practices,” said Matthew Gunkel, Group Manager for eLearning Design & Services and Architect for eLearning Technology at Indiana University. “The platform Intellus provides allows faculty invaluable insights that can directly inform course design and improve course quality over time.”

While colleges and universities are awash in digital content, faculty and instructional designers have not previously been able to evaluate how students respond to individual content items, such as library and publisher content, OER, and digital course materials embedded in the LMS. With the advent of Intellus Analytics, faculty and instructional designers are able to evaluate course structure and content based on course-level learning objectives and differentiate content selections based on student preferences and abilities.

“With the vast array of instructional resources available to educators to support instruction, faculty and instructional designers often face an overwhelming task in selecting and curating content,” said David J. Kim, founder and CEO of Intellus Learning and an expert in the application of analytics in digital asset management and search marketing. “Our new analytics layer enables intelligent curation that considers relevance and student engagement, helping faculty pinpoint the resources that will have the greatest impact.”

In partnership with many institutions, Intellus Learning has now indexed over 45 million online learning resources (e.g., articles, books, videos, and digital content items) spanning major OER repositories, library archives, and publisher and institutional databases. Last fall, Intellus Learning launched a new platform designed to help faculty discover, review, and use the abundant digital resources, including OER, that are available within their colleges and universities.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Could these 3 burgeoning nontraditional pathways be a boon for traditional institutions?

Unconventional education organizations say recent high school grads flocking to nontraditional pathways; could this be good for college and university admissions?

If Malia Obama’s doing it, you know it either is, or will soon become, a popular trend among the young crowd: opting out of a traditional 4-year college experience immediately after high school graduation to pursue nontraditional pathways to postsecondary education.

The eldest Obama daughter is choosing to take a gap year for self-directed learning experiences—a nontraditional pathway that the New York Times says is becoming an increasingly popular option among recent high school grads.

But that’s not the only non-traditional pathway to postsecondary education that’s popular among the young folk these days, say three education organizations.

According to a recent brief from Coding Dojo (a coding bootcamp), Noodle (an ed website aimed at helping parents and students make better learning decisions), and UnCollege (a program aimed to equip young adults with skills to succeed both personally and professionally post-high school), there are three distinctive nontraditional pathways students seem most inclined to pursue…and for good reason.

“College costs keep growing and student debt is over one trillion dollars,” explained Richard Wang, CEO at Coding Dojo in a statement. “These alternative education options can help keep student debt under control, while providing individuals with real-world experience and skills employers are looking for in job candidates.”

But should traditional colleges and universities be worried…or excited?

(Next page: 3 popular nontraditional pathways to postsecondary ed; what they mean for colleges and universities)

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New partnership to create low-cost, alternative pathway to college credit

Self-paced study program from Cengage Learning and Excelsior College to be delivered via Learning Objects’ Difference Engine® Platform.

Cengage Learning and Excelsior College announced a partnership to create an innovative, low-cost, alternative pathway to college credit.  The core of the collaboration will be a set of self-paced digital courses – using Cengage Learning market leading content – each with integrated diagnostic and formative assessments.  Additionally, the joint effort will include a college credit bearing summative exam, developed by Excelsior’s Center for Educational Measurement, among the most respected higher education assessment organizations.

The program, which will be delivered online via the Learning Objects Difference Engine® platform, will initially focus on two degree pathways – an associates in criminal justice, and an MBA, with plans to expand to other subjects and degrees in the near future.  Students will have access to each digital course and its college credit exam for one low price and, upon successful completion, will earn college credit from Excelsior College, for use towards a degree program at Excelsior or for transfer to any accredited institution accepting such transfer credit.  This innovative, self-paced program will be open to anyone desiring a flexible and low cost way to earn college credits to enhance their skills and career opportunities.

Learning Objects, acquired by Cengage Learning in September 2015, collaborates with higher education institutions to design and build digital learning environments.  The company brings together course and program design services, technology and content, including open educational resources (OER), to collaboratively build learning experiences for students.

“Excelsior has been providing credit-by-exam opportunities for over forty years,” said Nurit Sonnenschein, General Manager for the Center for Educational Measurement.  “With this partnership, our students maintain the flexibility and low cost of a credit-by-exam program; but the marriage of the exam with the rich digital courseware developed by Cengage provides a level of pedagogy never yet offered, and opens up the possibility of self-study to a much larger population.  And the development of this product as a complete pathway to degree, rather than as individual course/exam electives, will be an exciting opportunity for so many prospective students who seek an alternative to online courses.”

“Online learning has proven a tremendous resource for students who are unable to attend traditional campus-based programs.  This partnership with Excelsior is designed to open up access to even more working professionals who need credits or a degree for a job or workplace advancement,” said Lori Hales, SVP Institutional Sales, Cengage Learning.

The program will be available in March 2017. Costs will range from $400 to $550, depending on the subject.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Members introduce bipartisan bill to strengthen career and technical ed

Legislation for career and technical education aims to help more Americans obtain knowledge, skills for in-demand jobs.

Led by Republican and Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, policymakers today introduced the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. Introduced by Reps. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) and Katherine Clark (D-MA), the legislation reauthorizes and reforms the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and will help more Americans enter the workforce with the skills they need to compete for high-skilled, in-demand jobs.

“The importance of career and technical education has grown exponentially across the country since the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act was passed unanimously by Congress in 2006,” Rep. Thompson said. “This well-engineered and robust reauthorization aims to close our nation’s skills gap by creating clear pathways to education and training for students eager to pursue careers in vital technical fields.   As co-chair of the House Career and Technical Education Caucus, I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.”

“Every student deserves a fair chance to earn the skills needed to thrive in the modern workforce,”said Rep. Clark. “That’s why I’m introducing the bipartisan Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century Act. This bill ensures our career and technical education system is flexible enough to adapt to the needs of emerging industries, is accountable to ensure every child has a chance to succeed, and is providing robust support for our educators. I look forward to working with the House Education and Workforce Committee to pass it into law.”

“For men and women trying to compete in today’s workforce, having the right knowledge and set of skills has never been more important,” said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN). “Career and technical education can provide incredible opportunities for Americans—particularly younger Americans—to pursue good-paying jobs in industries critical to our economy. This bipartisan legislation will help more individuals seize those opportunities and achieve a lifetime of success. I want to extend my appreciation to Representatives Thompson and Clark for their hard work on this important proposal.”

“Once again, Committee Members were able to work together on a true bipartisan effort,” said Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA). “With the assistance and counsel of our colleagues in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, we are proud to introduce the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which will modernize federal support for career and technical education. Today’s CTE programs work to prepare millions of students for lifelong success and help bridge the divide between high school and postsecondary education and training. This bipartisan bill prioritizes equity of opportunity for all students to participate in, and benefit from, high-quality CTE programs and will prepare them for high-skill, high-wage jobs that lead to economic self-sufficiency in the 21st century workforce. I believe this legislation is another important step toward education and workforce development system alignment for the benefit of students, families, and our nation.”

(Next page: Link to Career and Technical Education bill; building on recent reforms)

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Mount Saint Mary’s University introduces its first hybrid MBA program

Mount Saint Mary’s University is expanding its roster of business degree programs with the introduction of a hybrid master’s degree in business administration that combines classroom and online instruction.

“Today’s business students demand greater accessibility and convenience and the advanced education they need to succeed in a dynamic and complex business environment,” said Mark Alhanati, Business Administration department chair. “The hybrid MBA program meets those requirements by offering the benefits of a traditional educational setting, leading-edge educational technology and the widely recognized academic rigor of a Mount Saint Mary’s education.”

Foundation courses for the hybrid MBA program, which is open to women and men, are being offered for the fall semester, concurrent with the program’s August launch. Core concentration courses will begin in spring 2017.

The online course work is based on the technology portal, Canvas, and will be supplemented with twice-weekly classroom sessions held every other week at Mount Saint Mary’s Doheny Campus near downtown Los Angeles. Students will complete the final semester of their degree through the Mount’s Weekend MBA program, which includes a China immersion study trip, career coaching and a speaker symposium series. The program can be completed in 15 to 18 months.

“The hybrid MBA degree program provides a flexible and integrated learning environment for adults pursuing graduate business study,” said Christian Teeter, MBA program director. “It enhances our portfolio of MBA degree programs for working professionals that offers concentrations in entrepreneurship/social entrepreneurship, organizational leadership and project management.”

For information about the hybrid MBA program, visit https://www.msmu.edu/graduate-programs/business-administration/.

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New micro-learning platform aims to help young professionals

Platform offers a unique online resource for new and young professionals looking to accelerate their professional development

Speakeasy, Inc., a global communication coaching and professional development company, announced the launch of SelfLink.com, an online, micro-learning portal specifically designed to meet the learning needs of up-and-coming working professionals. With communication programs offered all over the world, and with offices in Atlanta, San Francisco, New York and Amsterdam, Speakeasy is looking to continue the communication development of young, new professionals by leveraging the best in educational technology.

The online resources are designed to harness the power of more effective personal communication in driving real business results. Developed to meet the growing need of Millennials to stay up-to-date on professional development topics, SelfLink was created to serve a younger audience keeping their learning preferences in mind. SelfLink’s micro-learning videos are aimed at moving learners quickly from where they are to where they need to be in order to make real contributions to their organizations. Each self-paced module within the suite of courses on SelfLink.com is followed by a short survey to best identify areas of strength, and highlight opportunities the learner can utilize to improve his or her communication effectiveness.

“Today’s young professionals have grown up with more information, more speed, more diversity, and more opportunity than any generation before,” explained Kip Coombs, President, Speakeasy. “But one thing hasn’t changed; powerful personal communication is still the critical link in their journey toward success.”

Young professionals can register on SelfLink.com and receive instant access to a full suite of short, micro-learning videos with fast-moving quizzes and written coaching. The materials on SelfLink.com are all designed to deliver the baseline communication awareness new young professionals need to immediately begin contributing in a business environment.

“After forty-two years, we’re very excited to deliver a scalable learning experience appropriate for young professionals,” noted Scott Weiss, CEO, Speakeasy. “SelfLink.com meets the growing demands of our clients by providing readily accessible, effective, and at only $30 per subscriber, extremely affordable professional communication development tools. Now, all young professionals can tap into the communication awareness they need to begin their careers with confidence and authenticity.”

Speakeasy’s traditional in-person communication skills training classes will continue, with new programs being offered in Chicago and Boston through 2016. Although it was developed with young professionals in mind, SelfLink broadens the professional and communication development opportunities available through Speakeasy, and it serves as a unique resource for professionals at all levels. By utilizing SelfLink.com, business professionals will be able to tap into proven communication program techniques, receive expert guidance, and access Speakeasy materials to help them through their communication journeys.

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Cloud, with a chance of savings and 24/7 uptime

In the face of increasing demand for its online services, a Philadelphia college has found improved uptime performance, cost savings—and inexpensive disaster recovery—in the cloud.

A trifecta of needs—cost savings, business continuity, and disaster-recovery—has prompted Peirce College in Philadelphia to migrate much of its infrastructure to the cloud over the past 18 months. The college, which caters primarily to working adult learners, has seen more and more of its students using the school’s online educational services, putting pressure on IT to deliver 24/7 uptime and rapid recovery.

The introduction of Peirce Fit, a flexible study option that allows students to switch between online and on-campus study from week to week, lies behind much of this increase. “If you can take classes at 8 PM on a Wednesday night at home in your sweat pants, you’re going to choose that over being physically in another location at, say, midday during the week,” said Michael Mozeliak, director of IT at Peirce. “Students want to be able to access class whenever and wherever they are. As a result, we’re seeing a little bit more strain on the 24/7 uptime.”

The school also recognized that its infrastructure was dangerously vulnerable in the event of a disaster: The Peirce IT department, which houses the college’s servers, occupies a single building in the center of Philadelphia. “If anything happens to this building, we’re sunk,” said Mozeliak of the situation his team faced prior to the move to the cloud.

A Hurricane Decision

A few years ago, the college did maintain a co-location site in New Jersey to provide redundancy, but it sat only 15 miles from the Philadelphia campus. Hurricane Sandy, which devastated an entire region of New York and New Jersey in 2012, served as a warning that this kind of separation was insufficient. “I think Sandy played a big part in the decision for Peirce to start focusing on disaster recovery more than it had in the past,” said Mozeliak, but he also stressed that co-location sites tend to have their own problems. “A lot of the time, you end up putting yesterday’s technology over there because you don’t have the budget to buy new infrastructure.” This, in turn, can lead to slow performance and other issues.

Now, Peirce has turned to VMware’s vCloud Air Virtual Private Cloud to provide the reliability it needs as well as for disaster recovery. “We’ve been on VMware for nine years, so we’re very familiar with it,” said Mozeliak, noting that he has only a small team to run IT operations on campus. “It’s easy to use. Once the VMware cloud is set up, it requires the same skills we were using in-house to manage the environment on campus.”

(Next page: Uptime part of a much broader cloud plan)

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NASA awards grants for STEM education programs

Two minority universities receive funding to continue STEM education

NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) has selected two minority serving institutions for cooperative agreement awards totaling approximately $1 million to help strengthen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula at the schools.

Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama, and New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, will receive as much as $500,000 each.

The MUREP Other Opportunities solicitation challenged schools to propose innovative ways to create and implement STEM activities, with a goal of increasing the number of historically underserved students studying STEM fields relevant to NASA’s diverse exploration missions.

“NASA’s MUREP program helps colleges and universities give students from underrepresented and underserved communities a strong foundation in STEM fields, which in turn helps create a strong STEM workforce,” said Donald James, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Education.

Through MUREP’s competitive awards, NASA provides financial assistance to minority serving institutions, including historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities, American Indian and Alaskan Native serving institutions, predominantly black institutions and other minority serving institutions and eligible community colleges. These institutions recruit and retain underrepresented and underserved students, including women, girls, veterans and persons with disabilities, into STEM fields.

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