Blackboard, Anthology to Merge, Creating Ed-Tech Behemoth

Combined entity will work with thousands of colleges across administrative and academic departments.

September 14, 2021

Anthology, which emerged a year ago from the combination of three higher education administrative software firms, will merge with Blackboard, long the most visible company in learning technology, the two companies announced today. The deal will result in the end of Blackboard as a freestanding company, and could bring the end of its well-known, and sometimes controversial, brand.

The companies did not share any financial data, but the combined entity is likely to be among the sector's biggest educational technology firms. Blackboard's current owner, Providence Equity Partners, bought it in 2011 for $1.64 billion, and Blackboard was shopped (but not sold) in 2015 for about $3 billion.

"Our combined footprint, from both a product perspective and from the more than 4,000 colleges and universities we serve worldwide, likely makes this the largest education technology company selling into higher education," Jim Milton, Anthology's chairman and chief executive officer, said in an interview this morning. Milton will lead the combined company, whose name has not yet been decided.

Anthology, whose roots date to 1988, emerged from the combination of Campus Management, a provider of administrative systems including student information, finance and human resources software; Campus Labs, a firm focused on assessment, learning and student success technology; and iModules, a community engagement software company. ListEdTech last year estimated that Anthology itself was the third-biggest higher ed administrative technology company behind Microsoft and Ellucian.

Blackboard was for many years the dominant provider of learning management systems, though competitors such as Instructure (maker of Canvas) and D2L have gained ground and, in the former's case, surpassed it.

In 2019, Blackboard sold off its Transact unit, one of the businesses it had bought as it sought to expand beyond being a learning management company. That led to intensifying speculation that the company could be broken up or sold, as it carried significant debt.

Milton and Bill Ballhaus, Blackboard's chairman, CEO and president, said the power of the combined company will flow from its ability to bring data from across the student life cycle to bear on student and institutional performance. "We're on the cusp of breaking down the data siloes" that often exist between administrative and academic departments on campuses, Ballhaus said.

In the interview, a reporter asked Ballhaus whether Blackboard would disappear as a company and a brand. The company, while widely known, also has significant baggage from years as a target of faculty grumbling about its products and targeting by competitors.

He said the new office that would manage the merger was just forming and would "take a fresh look" at many issues. "Both brands bring a lot of assets and history to the table," he said. The most important thing is to see the combined entity realize its potential, and it's important that we be unconstrained in our thinking about the best way to do that."

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Doug Lederman

Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. He helps lead the news organization's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003. Before that, Doug had worked at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles, first as an athletics reporter and editor. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one in 2009 for a series of Inside Higher Ed articles he co-wrote on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug lives with his wife, Kate Scharff, in Bethesda, Md.

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