Trustees OK end of UA’s eVersity; Grantham to get assets, liabilities

Hands type on a laptop computer keyboard in this Feb. 27, 2013, file photo. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)
Hands type on a laptop computer keyboard in this Feb. 27, 2013, file photo. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)

Trustees on Thursday approved the pending shut down of an online-only university established "from scratch" in 2014 by the University of Arkansas System.

Business operations for what's been known as the UA System eVersity will merge with a recently acquired online-only venture now called University of Arkansas Grantham.

In August, the 10-member University of Arkansas board of trustees approved a $1 deal to take on assets and liabilities of Grantham University, a for-profit university based in Lenexa, Kan., with approximately 5,500 students.

Efforts stalled with eVersity, but the approximately 120 students now enrolled will either finish up their degrees or continue on as UA Grantham students paying their current tuition rate, UA System spokesman Nate Hinkel said in an email.

The final eVersity class is expected to be offered by July, according to documents presented to trustees ahead of their meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Batesville.

Michael Moore, the UA System's vice president for academic affairs, told trustees Thursday that board approval allows the official closure of eVersity academic programs.

"We've got a few little housekeeping items that we need to do," Moore added, referring to wind-down efforts that involve the federal Department of Education as well as the state Division of Higher Education and educational accrediting agencies.

Moore called it a "bittersweet" request, as he spoke to trustees in 2014.

At the time, the idea for eVersity was pitched as having UA System faculty members teach online courses to mostly adult learners who had taken some college courses but never finished their degrees.

"It was a bold step to create a brand new university from scratch," Moore said Thursday.

The launch came with financial help, and eVersity failed to make payments on a $5 million loan that originated from other UA System campuses.

Trustees in January approved a resolution allowing another 10 years for repayment of the loan, and, according to the resolution approved Thursday, all of eVersity's assets and liabilities will transfer to UA Grantham.

Hinkel, in an email, said that the loan repayment will start soon, if it hasn't started already.

None of the approximately 15 eVersity workers have had their jobs eliminated, Hinkel said. The number does not include any instructors, as eVersity instructional staff are considered employees of UA System schools, Hinkel said.

"The vast majority of eVersity employees have already started assuming new, additional duties at UA Grantham, while also maintaining their eVersity duties to wind down the remaining sessions during the transition," Hinkel said, adding that the workers are expected to work "100 percent for UA Grantham" when the courses wrap up.

Hinkel said the former eVersity workers continuing on after the closure of eVersity would remain state employees. UA Grantham now has 146 full-time staff members, of which two are considered state employees, Hinkel said.

The UA System in March released a financial schedule prepared in advance of the Grantham University acquisition. It listed transferring assets in the amount of approximately $4,554,062, and transferring liabilities of $4,562,127.

Back in August, the UA System declined to release the document, citing an exemption from public disclosure for records that would provide a competitive advantage. Hinkel back in August said that the financial document also involved "proprietary data of a private, for-profit entity."