Rio Salado Puts Brakes on Proposed Sale

Officials at Maricopa Community Colleges say they aren't interested in investor's $400 million offer for institution's online operation.
January 24, 2008

The chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District sent an e-mail message to its employees late Wednesday saying that the institution would not seriously consider a private investor's offer to buy the online operations of Rio Salado College, its "college without walls."

“I feel the need to set the record straight,” Rufus Glasper, chancellor of the Maricopa system, wrote in the e-mail, the full text of which is below. “Rio Salado College is not for sale.”

Glasper's e-mail came after a busy day of meetings and discussion prompted by the offer, which was first reported Wednesday by Inside Higher Ed. Under the terms of the offer, which was transmitted to and discussed for hours with Maricopa officials last week, an investment group led by Michael Clifford, a San Diego businessman, said it would pay $5,000 per enrolled student (or $400 million, whichever is more) for the “assets used to operate” the college's online operations.

On Tuesday, Glasper had said in another e-mail message to Maricopa board members that he viewed the offer as “flattering” and “strong reinforcement of the good work we do.” He said that the “the legality and ramifications of such a transaction have not been determined,” and that “[w]hile we are obligated to perform due diligence and review any such offer, we remain committed to the important work we do; teaching and learning.”

Linda Thor, Rio’s president since 1990, briefed faculty members on the offer Tuesday and said in an interview that afternoon that she too was “very, very flattered by this offer, particular the size,” and that she and her colleagues viewed it as “enormous validation” of the work they do. But the fact that no public college has ever been taken for-profit -- several longtime observers of higher education said they were unaware of such a precedent -- has left the district’s lawyers with “lots of questions” about the proposal, Thor said, including a fundamental one: “Is this something we can even consider?”

Late Wednesday, after a day of deliberations and significant debate about the proposal (see, for example, reaction to Inside Higher Ed's article Wednesday) and after Glasper released another statement to local reporters reiterating Maricopa's willingness to consider the offer, Glasper abruptly changed course.

While college officials need to look for new sources of revenue, Glasper wrote, “Dr. Thor and I would never do so at the expense of our students and/or staff. Upon review, we find that the offer that has been brought forward does not align with our goals.”

Glasper said, however, that the college remained open to "public/private partnerships" that are consistent with its goals as a community institution.


Below is the text of the e-mail sent by Chancellor Rufus Glasper late Wednesday:

Dear Maricopa,

Everything we do at Maricopa must advance our critical objectives – student success, public stewardship and “one Maricopa.”

News stories in the past 24-hours, about the potential sale of Rio Salado College have raised many questions and I’d like to address some of them.

Our primary mission is teaching and learning. I want to reiterate that nothing will ever impede our work in providing educational access and opportunity -- a true public education to the people of Maricopa County. We take very seriously our promise to students and their families to provide quality teaching and learning at a reasonable cost.

Just before the holiday weekend, I received a letter from a group of investors led by Michael Clifford. This letter of intent, offered at Mr. Clifford’s own initiative, outlined a proposal to purchase Rio Salado College.

The letter did not demand an immediate response – and, in fact, requested confidentiality. Mr. Clifford independently decided to announce his offer to the press on January 22, which unfortunately prompted local and national news stories.

Given the publicity that this situation has gained, I feel the need to set the record straight; Rio Salado College is not for sale.

While I have encouraged our colleges to pursue new options for revenue streams, Dr. Thor and I would never do so at the expense of our students and/or staff. Upon review, we find that the offer that has been brought forward does not align with our goals. However, we remain open to public and private partnerships that are consistent with those goals.

It is unfortunate that this matter has developed in this manner before we had the opportunity to communicate our response to Mr. Clifford.

We remain committed to our guiding principles and to helping our students succeed, using the public resources entrusted to us efficiently and effectively, and working together as “one Maricopa.”


Rufus Glasper


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