German media giant courts US Hispanic student market

German media giant Bertelsmann AG is funding half of a US$100 million fund called University Ventures. One of the initiative’s key targets will be Hispanic colleges in the US, which it sees as a growing market. It is part of a trend in which private capital helps traditional universities to tackle gaps in the market.

University Ventures will form partnerships with universities and vocational schools to establish six to 10 initiatives over the next five years to address gaps in the US and European higher education markets.

“We’re innovating from within higher education,” Ryan Craig, a founding partner of University Ventures, told University World News.

“We believe that the future of higher education will be determined in large part by partnerships between leading universities and market-driven student-centric private sector organisations.”

Bertelsmann, which invested $50 million in the fund, announced its plans last week.

One of the fund’s first projects is a new college for Hispanic students in the US. Only 13% of Hispanics have a bachelor degree or higher, compared to 30% of Americans as a whole, according to census data. Yet the Hispanic population is the country’s fastest-growing ethnic group, surging by 43% over the last decade.

In partnership with California-based Brandman University, a non-profit institution, the fund aims to improve the Hispanic population’s access to higher education.

“The Hispanic population is so strong in California and it’s growing,” said Rita Wilds, a spokesperson for Brandman University, which operates 26 campuses in California and Washington State.

“It’s important that the population does have access to college so that they can get better jobs, be competitive in employment, go on to build a better life, and have more opportunities available to them.”

Poor English language skills account for much of the problem, said Wilds.

The new college, which has not yet been given a name, will attempt to tackle the issue by teaching courses in both English and Spanish. That way, instead of attending a couple of English language classes a week, students will learn the language and the content at the same time.

The college will open its doors this autumn, offering courses that include psychology, business and criminal justice, with an eye to expanding those offerings in the future. Classes will take place three hours per week on-campus, and six hours online.

Wilds said Brandman had received a lot of interest in the college, especially from employers. As baby boomers start to retire, employers are looking to fill those jobs, many of which require bilingual skills.

“Employers have a lot of opportunities for bilingual students,” said Wilds, “especially on the business side.”

President Barack Obama has vowed that America will have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. But to achieve that, tertiary institutions need to greatly expand their capacity for new students, a seemingly impossible task in the current economic climate.

Craig said a partnership model offers a viable solution. “You have traditional universities doing what they do best, partnered with market-driven organisations with capital,” he said.

University Ventures is part of a growing trend that uses private capital to help traditional universities expand or develop new programmes to address gaps in the market.

Other prominent initiatives include the recent partnership between Altius Education and Ohio’s Tiffin University to establish Ivy Bridge College, an online community college aimed at students who wish to transfer to four-year institutions.

Another initiative is the collaboration between service provider 2tor and the University of Southern California, which allows online masters students to complete their degree using an iPhone or iPad.

The fund’s other initial investment is Higher Education Online, a London-based company that will partner with universities in Europe to bring undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes online.