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Pearson partners with Ivy Tech for self-paced, online gen-ed courses

Pacing Themselves
April 19, 2012

The media conglomerate Pearson today announced a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana to provide online, self-paced courses that the company says will help Ivy Tech deal with student demand and overcrowding issues in required general education courses.

For Pearson, which already sells modules for instructor-led courses, the move represents a further step in the company’s strategy of inserting itself into virtually every area of e-learning short of full degree programs.

“We thought it was time for us to have a self-paced play that our partners could then plug into their institutions and get more students into higher education,” said Don Kilburn, the CEO of Pearson Learning Solutions.

Meanwhile, the partnership allows Ivy Tech to refer certain students to hands-off self-paced general education courses — which it does not currently offer — without building such courses itself.

“It is a way to test out that modality and see if it works for some students without taking a lot of business risk on our own,” said Kara Monroe, associate vice president for online academic programs at Ivy Tech.

Pearson so far has developed introductory courses in American government, accounting, English and psychology for the new self-paced course portal, which is called Propero. Eight additional courses are in the works, according to a news release. Pearson is selling the courses for $299 per student, per course -- a price that includes temporary access to a Pearson e-textbook and 10 free hours of online tutoring support.

The per-course price tag of $299 was set by Pearson "based on extensive research on per-credit costs around the nation" and a survey of students aimed at finding out "what they’d expect to pay for a self-paced three-credit course," according to Susan Aspey, a company spokeswoman. StraighterLine, a company that offers online general education courses for credit through institutional partnerships and perhaps the nearest analog to Propero, offers courses for $99 per month, per course, plus a $39 registration fee.

Unlike the prefabricated Pearson courses that institutions can buy and direct their faculty to teach, the Propero courses are designed for students to work through the material and tests without any instruction. Like Western Governors University, an online nonprofit that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels recently recruited to help solve capacity issues at the state’s public four-year institutions, Propero has no instructors or lectures.

Students will work through material at their own pace, calling in tutors when necessary, progressively unlocking tests by demonstrating their competence on practice tests until they have completed the course, the company says.

Pearson says it hopes that its future partners will award credit based on student performance on exams embedded within the Propero courses, which have been approved by the American Council on Education (ACE) credit recommendation service.

However, Ivy Tech is requiring students who complete Propero courses to pass standardized College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests before they can claim Ivy Tech credit for what they learned in their Propero courses. Notwithstanding ACE’s approval of the courses, applying a standardized assessment administered by a third party “perhaps adds a little more validity,” said Monroe, the Ivy Tech vice president.

Making Propero students pass CLEP tests also helped Ivy Tech avoid having to run the Propero courses by its faculty members, which have already agreed that CLEP tests are good enough to qualify students for course credit. Faculty at other institutions have beaten back administrative attempts to outsource credit-bearing general education courses to for-profit providers.

But the CLEP requirement gives Ivy Tech a buffer. Monroe said she does not expect faculty to object to the college’s partnership with Propero, because from Ivy Tech’s perspective, the Propero courses are just another way students might prepare for CLEP, she said.

Rather than a deep academic integration between the public college system and the private company, the Propero-Ivy Tech partnership is, strictly speaking, “just [around] marketing at this point,” said Monroe. Ivy Tech will give Propero referrals with the hope that those students will boomerang back to Ivy Tech to finish their degrees.

However, Monroe added that Ivy Tech may be open to expanding its relationship with Propero. “We are looking at potentially working with them on other courses [and] programs if these prove to be successful,” she said.

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