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I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

A transfer agreement that shows the gloves are off.

Transfer agreements don’t usually signal a sea change. The one that Pennsylvania’s community-college system just announced with Southern New Hampshire University may be one that does. It also raises a lot of interesting issues about the increasing competition for students — it’s a market out there, folks — and whether expectations for relationships among public-college systems are going out the window.

But first, the basics: Last week the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges announced a broad partnership with Southern New Hampshire University that will provide students from the system’s 14 colleges with a hassle-free transfer pathway to the online giant. For the most part, as The Philadelphia Inquirer noted, they’ll pay less to complete their bachelor’s degree than they would if they went to Penn State World Campus or one of the four-year colleges in the state public-college system.

It was clearly a coup for SNHU. As one of my Twitter followers succinctly put it: Southern New Hampshire “captured 3 very important things — cost, convenience and credit transferability — a market driven response to a big problem.”

SNHU has other such agreements with community-college systems. Readers of my coverage of its growth ambitions shouldn’t have been surprised by the willingness of this “mega-university” to build this on-ramp.

What struck me about this one was SNHU’s partner: a system with 175,000 students enrolled for credit in a state where there are two seemingly viable public alternatives, both of which could certainly use the students. Was this some sort of indictment of those options?

When I spoke with Elizabeth A. Bolden, president and chief executive of the commission, she steered clear of that characterization. Yet she made it abundantly clear that the features of the SNHU deal — the university allows students to transfer up to 90 credits, and its academic calendar offers more windows for enrollment — were offerings that the other colleges hadn’t put on the table. In SNHU, Bolden said, the commission had found a partner “willing to think outside the box.”

Cost was a factor. The attractive pricing that SNHU offered will also be available to employees of the colleges and their families. But that wasn’t determinant, Rather, Bolden said, “the power in the agreement is the simplicity and the transparency” it offers to students. “They don’t need to go to a website and make a course-to-course articulation” to figure out which credits will transfer.

I wonder how this agreement will play with state policy makers in Pennsylvania — and in states where oversight over public-college systems is more centralized. After all, as some have observed, it can be argued that this is a case where one state-subsidized entity is undermining other state-subsidized systems.

But it could also be argued that with the emergence of “mega-universities” and other online competitors, the shifting landscape might sometimes now require snubbing a sister public system.

That’s where Bolden comes down. Students come first, she told me: “We have an obligation to them, not our institutions.” She also noted that more than 1,500 students a year from Pennsylvania community colleges already transfer to SNHU. Why is that? she asked. “That is the question that I think Pennsylvania policy makers have to ask themselves.”

It reminds me of the argument I heard from Eduventures’ Richard Garrett last year: that when big out-of-state online players show up, that should be “a wake-up call to states” to start thinking strategically about using online education to further their needs and goals.

it also made me wonder whether the “caution” that I’ve described as a hallmark of World Campus has been the right strategy — and whether this deal with SNHU will change Penn State’s approach.

Southern New Hampshire isn’t the first online institution to have approached the commission, Bolden told me, and she doesn’t expect it to be the last. (I asked who else; she wouldn’t say.) She’s still open to offers, including those from the in-state systems. I doubt she’s the only two-year-system leader weighing these options. As she put it: “Community-college students are in high demand.”

It’s also worth noting that even as some observers have hailed this deal as a victory for “the market,” others view it as a big fail on the part of state leadership. Those critics include the Temple University sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab. “As Pennsylvania has abdicated its responsibility for funding higher education,” she wrote in an op-ed, “it has correspondingly failed to hold its colleges and universities accountable for collaborating.”

So what do Penn State and Pennsylvania’s public-college system think of the deal? I haven’t seen reaction from World Campus, but over the weekend Dan Greenstein, the newish chancellor of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, let some of his feelings be known in a thread on Twitter. It was a bit cryptic, but suffice to say, when someone invokes the phrase “hunger games” you can be pretty sure it wasn’t intended as praise.

A shake-up at California’s online community college.

Seems like it was just yesterday that Heather Hiles was appointed the first president of the new college, which was later named Calbright. Now she’s leaving. (And yes, I’m the reporter briefly mentioned in this Chronicle story that discusses her departure.)

Quote of the week.

“Activities and extra information.”

—Wolf Cukier

Cukier, the Scarsdale High School senior who discovered a planet during his internship at NASA, describing — in a charming interview with NPR’s Scott Simon on Weekend Edition where he would list this accomplishment on his college applications.

Meet-Up in D.C. at AAC&U.

Are you going to this month’s annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges & Universities? Please join me, along with my colleagues Beth McMurtrie and Beckie Supiano, from The Chronicle’s Teaching newsletter, for a happy-hour meet-up on Thursday, January 23, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. We’ll be in the lobby bar of the conference hotel, the Marriott Marquis. We look forward to schmoozing with you — and hearing your ideas and feedback for our newsletters, The Edge and Teaching. Not going but know people who will be? Please let them know.

We want you … for ‘Shark Tank: Edu Edition,’ at SXSW EDU.

Yup, we’ll be back again this year for the sixth edition of this fun pitchfest. Got a new company, a new organization, or even just a good idea to improve higher education? Attending SXSW EDU? Please consider taking the plunge as one of our Shark Tank contestants, on Tuesday, March 10, from 3 to 4 pm, in Austin, Tex. You can read more about the who and what in the write-up at the end of last week’s newsletter. Interested? Please send a short description of your venture or idea to

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.