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UCLA Joins Venture to Offer Online Education to Baby Boomers

San Francisco—In an unusual partnership, the University of California at Los Angeles has joined with venture capitalists, a former contender to be the Republican nominee for governor, and the leading Los Angeles talent agency, to offer online education to baby boomers who want to switch careers.

A for-profit company, the Encore Career Institute, will offer online professional certificate programs starting next fall, through courses taught by instructors from the UCLA Extension program. The curriculum may include one- to two-year certificate programs in project management, paralegal studies, and fund raising, among others.

Encore has raised $15-million from two venture-capital firms and hopes to attract tens of thousands of students across the country, said its chief executive, Steve Poizner, a former technology executive who lost in the primary runoff for governor last year.

Mr. Poizner said 35 million American baby boomers are interested in a second career, but they are an untapped market in higher education. “A lot of boomers who have been able to survive this difficult economy still find their jobs are not necessarily satisfying, so they’re looking for an encore career,” Mr. Poizner said.

Universities are increasingly turning to commercial vendors to help manage their growing online programs. But the scale of UCLA’s public-private partnership is unusual for a public university, especially a prominent system like the University of California. UCLA will license its course content to Encore and control the educational component of the program. Daniel L. Simmons, chair of the system’s academic senate, said he did not believe any of the university’s campuses had ever developed such a program before.

Creative Artists Agency, a talent agency that represents Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney, will help market the online programs. Another founding partner is a nonprofit organization run by Sherry L. Lansing, former chief executive of Paramount Pictures and soon-to-be chair of the system’s Board of Regents.

Last year, a publishing and education company, Pearson, announced it would help Arizona State University provide software, bring in students, and manage student services for the university’s booming online programs. In an arrangement similar to the one at Arizona State, UCLA instructors will continue to teach Encore’s courses and will be able to approve its programs, said Cathy Sandeen, dean of UCLA Extension.

Ms. Sandeen said Encore is a great opportunity for UCLA to find a larger, national audience for its existing certificate programs, which issued certificates to roughly 2,000 people this year. “In order to take what we’re doing and expand it dramatically, we will need to partner with a private entity,” she said.

The $15-million raised by Encore contrasts sharply with the University of California’s efforts to raise money for an internal pilot program to offer online classes for undergraduates. Proponents of that program, which is estimated to cost roughly half as much, have limited their search to noncommercial partners and have had trouble finding support.

Mr. Simmons, the academic-senate chair, said he found the announcement of the Encore program “amazing and surprising” and was seeking more details from UCLA’s chancellor. “I’d be concerned about the effort it might take from UCLA’s core mission” if faculty or resources are diverted, he said. “The whole thing seems strange to me.”

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