University of Florida Terminates Online Education Contract With Pearson


The estimated $186 million contract between the University of Florida and British education publishing company Pearson has been terminated after Pearson failed to recruit the required number of out-of-state students for the UF Online program. The tuition shortfall made the University of Florida want to reconsider its 11-year contract last September, and now UF has decided to terminate it.

The deal with the publishing and testing company persisted for two years and now the university will enter a transitional stage through which it will create a new strategy for its online campus. In view of the new reality, UF will be now responsible for admissions, recruitment, student coaching and retention, and manage online admissions on campus. In the Alligator, Alexandra Fernandez writes that so far, Pearson received $9 million and will receive about $2 million more.

“I think this is a great, exciting new chapter for UF Online. I think it’ll actually serve (students) better,” Evangeline J. Tsibris Cummings said. “I think they’re going to get better services by UF experts across campus.”

By December 2015, the university hopes to integrate UF Online processes into the main university operations, Cummings, the assistant provost and director of UF Online, said in an email, according to Inside Higher Education.

For 2014-2015, UF Online projections saw that Pearson would manage to recruit 315 out-of-state students. The publishing company eventually enrolled 240 fewer out-of-state students, which translated into a $1.26 million shortfall, a Florida Board of Governors presentation noted.

“One of our key performance indicators in the contract was out-of-state students and Pearson failed to meet that target,” said Cummings.

UF favors out-of-state online students who pay as much as $550/credit hour because their tuition prices are not regulated by state law and a university can set these according to market rates. On the other hand, Florida-based students taking online courses pay 75% of what students enrolled in campus courses are paying for.

The news of the deal being cancelled have stirred a conversation among education experts who are watching yet another university struggle with its online education ventures. The misalignment in expectations and outcomes was the root of this failed collaboration, principal analyst Max Woolf said, according to Carl Straumsheim of Inside Higher Education. He singled out Florida’s requirements for out-of-state students and the fact that Pearson overestimated its ability and agreed to an impossible goal.

“The lesson for the institutions is to set expectations at the outset with the OPM provider that are reasonable and rational rather than have to face a situation where no one is satisfied with the outcomes of the partnership and you have to unwind a contract within the first three years,” Woolf said.