A group of business and education leaders is preparing to launch Whitney International University as a global, for-profit venture offering a range of courses and programs in much of the world and teaching education in the United States.
Whitney International's planning has been largely quiet to date. But Gerald A. Heeger announced Thursday that he would be leaving the presidency of the University of Maryland University College to become president of Whitney International. Heeger's current institution educates students -- largely through distance programs -- all over the world and during his presidency, the institution has experienced significant growth.
The new university is being created by Best Associates,  a Dallas-based merchant bank led by Randy Best,  who was also a founder of Voyager Expanded Learning,  which sells literacy instruction programs to school districts around the country. Voyager was sold to another company this year for $360 million.
Heeger said that the goal of the new university will be to "expand educational capacity." He said that in much of the world -- especially Asia, the Middle East and Africa -- there are "not enough seats." Whitney officials are already in serious discussions with government leaders and existing colleges about starting programs, Heeger said.
Asked if Whitney would be offering its own degrees, helping governments set up new colleges, or managing existing colleges, Heeger said that it would probably do all three.
He declined to discuss the magnitude of the program, but said that it would be "very sizable" and that the project was "well funded." Heeger said he anticipated that some programs would start within a year. He said that these programs would involve undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. In advance of Heeger's arrival at the company, planning has already started and involves several former college presidents. He said that among the countries that may be early targets for the company are Brazil, India, Malaysia and Mexico, but he stressed that there would be many others, as well.
Heeger also said that the instruction would be in a range of languages, and that it would be a mix of distance education and in-person instruction. He has a track record in growing distance enrollments. During the six years of his Maryland presidency, worldwide online enrollments grew to 130,000, from just over 20,000.
The focus of Heeger's work will be on the company's international division, not the teacher education programs in the United States. Rena Pederson, a spokeswoman for Best, said that the company anticipated the creation of new colleges to train teachers. She said that the emphasis would be on training teachers to work in urban areas.
Asked about the name "Whitney," Pederson said that the company was not connected to any of the famous Whitney families. "The name has a bearing and historical connotation that we thought would fit."
Whitney is not the only higher education venture looking outside the United States. The international division of the Apollo Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, has programs  (some with local partners) in Brazil, India, Mexico and the Netherlands, and is planning operations in Chile and China.
Laureate International Universities (formerly known as the Sylvan universities) has campuses  in Latin American, Europe and China.