UMass eyes bigger online education footprint with new brand

Massachusetts

BOSTON (SHNS) – The University of Massachusetts system will expand its online education footprint in an attempt to reach more adult learners after formally affiliating with a California-based university known for work on the digital front, officials announced Thursday.

School officials finalized a decision to transfer control of Brandman University, which currently serves 22,000 students as an independent part of the Chapman University System, from Chapman to UMass. Effective immediately, Brandman University is now known as “UMass Global,” which officials described as an independent, non-profit UMass affiliate.

The deal broadens online learning available under the UMass banner, and UMass Global will focus in particular on expanding talent pipelines and helping adult learners access new educational opportunities.

“Online learning was rapidly growing in importance for adult learners before the pandemic, but the last year and a half has demonstrated that UMass Global will be essential to millions of adults in Massachusetts, California and across the nation as job markets have been disrupted and employer needs and priorities have shifted,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “UMass Global will be a trusted partner to learners and employers by building on Brandman’s award-winning model.”

The expansion has been in the works. In 2019, Meehan announced in his “state of the university” address that UMass would pursue a new “online college” focused on adult learners, and officials said in June 2020 that UMass was developing a partnership with Brandman University.

The University of Massachusetts system itself will not pay Chapman University to complete the acquisition, but the independent, non-profit UMass Global affiliate will pay Chapman University a total of $96 million over the next 10 years, almost all of which will begin to flow in five years, according to a spokesperson. Brandman University brings to UMass Global annual operating revenue of about $130 million annually, plus about $50 million in cash.

A 13-member board of regents will govern UMass Global. Robert Manning, who chairs the UMass Board of Trustees, will chair the UMass Global Board of Regents, and additional members will be announced in the coming weeks, officials said.

UMass announced Wednesday that Manning, who also chairs MFS Investment Management, and his wife, Donna, agreed to make a $50 million gift for the university system.

Based in Irvine, California, Brandman University today operates 25 physical campuses in California and Washington as well as hybrid and online models. It started in 1958 when Chapman College — now Chapman University — began offering on-base classes for active duty military personnel before evolving into an independent school within the Chapman University System.

When UMass first revealed the partnership last year, Chapman University President Daniele Struppa said it had become “increasingly clear” that Chapman’s management of Brandman had gone “as far as we can.”

“The time is right for Brandman’s next step and UMass Global will undoubtedly be a national powerhouse in online education,” Struppa said in a statement on Thursday. “Finalizing the relationship between Brandman and UMass allows the two institutions to focus on their core strengths while Chapman continues its meteoric rise as a research institution.”

Brandman’s leadership will remain intact, and UMass Global intends to “act with urgency to help reduce persistent educational and economic achievement gaps” by expanding its student support model and its portfolio of business and nonprofit partnerships, officials said.

“UMass Global will create a formidable offering at a time when working adults and underserved communities need better options to complete their educations,” said Brandman University Chancellor Gary Brahm. “By coming together, we will leverage each other’s relationships, skills, and expertise to deliver leading hybrid and online academic programs from coast to coast.”

The school currently provides services for employers that offer low- or no-cost college as a worker benefit, including Chipotle Mexican Grill, Target, Walmart, Disney, and Discover Financial Services. A UMass spokesperson said those commitments will continue to be honored under the new partnership model.

Last year, UMass also partnered with Mass General Brigham to launch a certificate and degree completion pathway for health care professionals.

The pandemic sparked renewed focus on workforce development and skills gaps in Massachusetts. After a wave of unemployment earlier in the crisis, many businesses have said they are struggling to find employees to fill in-demand jobs.

Gov. Charlie Baker has been urging the Legislature to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funding on economic development and workforce training initiatives to help address those needs.

UMass and Brandman touted support for the new UMass Global affiliate from several major business groups including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Los Angeles County Business Federation and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.

“Essential skills are one of the keys to unlocking economic opportunity for people and communities throughout Greater Boston and Massachusetts,” Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President James Rooney said in a statement provided by the schools. “UMass Global is an innovative approach to re-skill and up-skill adult learners and workers, which will keep our region competitive as a global innovation leader.”

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