Blackboard reassures education customers after acquisition

Blackboard Inc. officials will stay in their current positions for now.

Educational software maker Blackboard Inc. is being taken private for $1.64 billion in cash by an investor group led by affiliates of Providence Equity Partners, and a Blackboard official said the much-discussed purchase would not affect the company’s education customers, as the company would continue its focus on mobile learning and analytics.

Under the terms of the deal announced July 1, shareholders of Blackboard will receive $45 for each share of Blackboard they own.

The price represents a 21-percent premium over the stock’s closing price on April 18, the day before the company said it was considering a sale. The stock closed June 30 at $43.39.

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The investor group has also agreed to take on $130 million in Blackboard’s debt.

Blackboard’s board of directors has unanimously approved the deal, but shareholder and regulators must still approve the terms.

The buyout will be financed through a combination of stock and debt. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, and Morgan Stanley provided debt financing commitments.

Earlier this year, Washington, D.C.-based Blackboard acquired the 90 percent of educational services provider Presidium Inc. that it didn’t already own for $53 million in cash.

The company’s acquisition by the investor group is expected to close in the last three months of this year. Blackboard’s senior management will remain in place.

The massive learning management system (LMS) company doesn’t have plans to immediately change “policy, pricing, or strategy” after Providence’s purchase, Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard’s teaching and learning division, wrote in a July 1 blog post.

“It’s natural that news of this magnitude would raise questions for our clients,” he wrote. “Critical to our success in recent years has been our focus on Blackboard’s performance on the fundamentals, sustaining the steady improvements we’re making in support responsiveness, openness, transparency, and quality. I envision no change in our underlying commitment to these fundamentals. And I’ll reassure you that we expect our pricing practices to remain within historical norms for the foreseeable future.”

Henderson said “there’s strong shared belief” among Blackboard and Providence Equity Partners that the company should continue its recent focus on mobile learning tools and data analytics applications that help education officials track retention rates, student attendance, enrollment, and myriad other statistics that affect the campus’s finances.

The company released its Blackboard Analytics program in February, giving colleges and universities a suite of analytics tools that have become more commonplace in higher education in recent years.

Campus decision makers also can use Blackboard Analytics to improve institutional fundraising during a time when donations are just recovering after a steep fall in 2008 and 2009.

Many campus technologists have distanced themselves from the LMS giant, especially in the wake of Blackboard’s purchase of up-and-coming competitor Angel Learning for $95 million in May 2009.

Some in higher education saw Angel Learning as a potential competitor for Blackboard, and lamented the consolidation of LMS options for colleges and universities.

In a letter to shareholders, Blackboard President Michael Chasen said Providence Equity Partners’ acquisition is “not expected to be complete for several months.”

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