For-Profit Upstart, Facing U.S. Inquiry, Sells Its Name and Most of Its Assets

October 11, 2013

Altius Education, which is facing a Justice Department investigation into the now-shuttered Ivy Bridge College that it helped to run at Tiffin University, this week sold its name and most of its assets to Datamark, a well-known enrollment-marketing company.

Assets related to Ivy Bridge were not part of the deal. "We're buying the trade name, we're not buying the company," said Oakleigh Thorne, Datamark's chairman of the board, in an interview on Thursday. "Ivy Bridge is the old Altius's problem."

The sale, for an undisclosed price, does include Helix, an online-learning system powered by rich analytic tools that Altius created for traditional and competency-based teaching. The sale also gives Datamark ownership of technology, intellectual property, and services that Altius has created in student retention and student coaching.

Datamark said it had offered employment to 42 of Altius's employees, and all have accepted. Not included in that hiring was Paul Freedman, the founder of Altius. But Mr. Freedman will assume a seat on the Datamark Board of Directors. He declined to comment, citing the terms of the sale.

For Datamark and Mr. Thorne, who was formerly chief executive of a another learning-management company, eCollege, the purchase of Helix marks a strong vote of confidence in competency-based education. He said he and others there believe it has "a huge future role" in higher education.

The deal came together quickly. Discussions began this past summer soon after news began to spread about the federal investigation and a crackdown on Ivy Bridge by Tiffin's accreditor.

Mr. Thorne led an investment group that financed Datamark's purchase of Altius's assets and that provided an additional $11-million infusion into Datamark to help support and expand the campus partnerships that Altius had begun to forge. Mr. Thorne said he had been attracted both by Helix, which he calls "a totally cutting-edge platform," and by the student-assistance services and systems that Altius had created, "which solves huge problems for a lot of schools today."