Public-private partnership proposal on table with company with poor track record

Madison Fantozzi/Assistant news director

This story published in Florida International University’s Student Media’s The Beacon on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. You can also read online:

Faculty are raising concern and criticism over the University’s proposed contract with Academic Partnerships to market a new program that will offer online degrees to students abroad — questioning the procedure, or lack thereof, that was undergone to select the company which was neither competitive nor voted upon by Faculty Senate.

FIU Global hopes to reap the financial benefits of the increasing popularity of online learning with the help of AP’s marketing and recruiting services, but the company does not have a favorable track record with the University.

However, Provost Douglas Wartzok says marketing is not the University’s strength and Dean of University College Joyce Elam says the company will perform non-academic activities that are important to the success of the program.

AP is not a new acquaintance of the University.

Mathematics Professor Enrique Villamor, who was chair of the Faculty Senate’s online committee when the University first signed a contract with AP in 2009 to create the corporate MBA program, said faculty was not informed of that contract, nor the one that is now being proposed.

“If someone is going to teach, they should be involved or at least informed,” said Villamor.

The Faculty Senate proposed a recommendation the first time around:

“Be it further resolved that the University shall neither renew its contract… nor enter into any other such contract to offer any FIU degree in partnership with any other private company without first consulting with the Faculty Senate,” the recommendation says.

Villamor said the Faculty Senate was told “vaguely” that administration looked into companies but AP was the best choice.

“We were told FIU was not capable of recruiting on its own and that the company had the capability of recruiting students from out of the region to the MBA online program,” said Villamor.

However, the company was responsible for recruiting 100 students for every entering class, but has only met this goal once. Elam confirmed this.

“Administration came back to the same company although results [were] not good,” said Villamor. “If you look at the numbers, they fall short and are declining.”

Wartzok  said this is one of the points being discussed with the company before moving forward with the new agreement.

“The goal is 100 students but 80 is acceptable,” said Elam. “I am satisfied with the enrollment [AP] has generated.”

The company was initially receiving 70 percent of tuition revenues. According to Elam, AP currently receives 45 percent of the tuition generated from the online program.

“Faculty think Academic Partnerships gets too much of tuition revenue,” wrote Wartzok in an email. “Some faculty prefer not to have a public-private partnership in the delivery of academic programs.”

According to Wartzok, faculty has “complete control” in determining the curriculum and development process of academic programs, and can decide whether or not they want to teach in the programs.

Elam said the University will be in control of the academic development of FIU Global, while the company will be responsible for marketing and recruiting for the program.

AP’s activities will also include setting up a call center and student services, staffing these services and translating courses into the languages of prospective students.

“We don’t have the capital or translation materials to do this on our own,” said Elam.

Another concern of faculty is the lack of a competitive process.

“If at any point our General Counsel determines that a competitive process is required, we will move to such a process,” wrote Wartzok.

While a formal process is not required, Elam said alternative companies were considered, but AP provides the most services at the lowest price.

According to AP’s website, the online students recruited by AP comprise as much as 30 percent of partner universities’ total enrollment and 100 percent of its university partnerships have been maintained.

Wartzok thinks that FIU Global and its relationship with AP will enhance the University’s international reputation and further the development of the Worlds Ahead Strategic Plan.

According to Elam, FIU Global and its partnership with AP is in an early stage of discussion.

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