Venture Fund for Traditional Colleges

The space between nonprofit and for-profit higher education gets a little more crowded today.

University Ventures Fund, a $100 million investment partnership founded by a quartet of veterans of the for-profit and nonprofit education sectors, is the latest entrant in a market that aims to use private capital to expand the reach and impact of traditional colleges and universities.

The fund, whose two biggest investors are the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG and the University of Texas Investment Management Company, is focused on stimulating "innovation from within the academy," rather than competing with it from the outside, David Figuli, a lawyer and partner in University Ventures, said in an interview Monday.

The projects will include helping institutions expand the scale of their academic programs, re-engineer how they deliver instruction, and better measure student outcomes; the first two investments, also announced today, will be creating a curriculum through Brandman University aimed at improving the educational outcomes of Hispanic students, and a company that helps universities in Britain and elsewhere in Europe deliver their courses online.

"Most of the attempts to bring about innovation in higher education have come from people trying to buy their way in," Figuli said, citing the many takeovers of traditional institutions by for-profit colleges over the last decade (quite a few of which he helped engineer). "Our way is to find good ideas within the existing institutions and fund those."

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