Pearson Returns to the Buyer’s Table With Workforce Education Deal

Since the turn of the century, Pearson has acquired more than two dozen education companies. But last year, as it was selling assets and slashing jobs left and right amid a major reorganization, CEO John Fallon said the company had curbed its appetite for buying startups.

Today, the Pearson announced its first acquisition in three years: Lumerit Education, a San Antonio, Texas-based company that works with businesses to offer their employees opportunities to earn bachelor’s degrees.

The deal, worth $29 million, marks Pearson’s return to the buyer’s side of the table after several years on the other side. And it will support a relatively newer part of the company: the Accelerated Pathways business, which started about three years ago to provide academic services to employers in the corporate learning market. The idea is to work with higher-ed institutions to offer degree-granting programs to workers at companies who have not earned postsecondary credentials.

“The workforce employability channel is attractive to Pearson, and it really ties into the company’s belief in lifelong learning,” says James Reeve, managing director of the company’s Accelerated Pathways division. “We’re looking to help employees upskill their skill sets so that they can move their careers forward, and help move their corporations forward.”

On the Accelerated Pathways website, the team brands this effort as an “education-as-a-strategy” service for employers. That may sound eerily similar to the “education-as-a-benefit” slogan adopted by Guild Education, a Denver-based startup that shares pretty much the same mission. Guild claims that it has helped 30,000 learners at workplaces sign up for programs offered by its 90 higher-ed partners.

Reeve says he’s very familiar with Guild, describing it as “our nearest competitor.” He believes that Pearson, by virtue of its size and long history, has more established relationships with academic partners and offers a broader set of services that could give it a leg up.

Thousands of employees across 20 corporations work with Pearson’s Accelerated Pathways business, according to Reeve. More than 50 academic institutions offer their programs to these employers, he adds.

Lumerit had worked with Pearson over the past couple years, and the initial conversations that led to this deal began about nine months ago when it became clear that Lumerit “was a very viable acquisition target because it was very complementary to our offering,” Reeve recalls.

Founded in 2004 and formerly called College Plus, Lumerit offers degree planning services to match people with online courses that offer credits to graduate or transfer to a college. The company claims expertise in the course offerings and credit and transfer policies at hundreds of higher-ed institutions. Among the offerings in its online catalog are several dozen courses developed by Pearson Education.

In recent years, Lumerit has expanded its clientele to work with companies, offering a service that connects people’s educational history with their employer’s tuition assistance program and the credit transfer policies at different colleges and universities. On its website, the company says it has served more than 24,000 students across 48 countries to date.

As part of the deal, Lumerit’s 70 employees will join Pearson’s Online Learning Services division, which houses the Accelerated Pathway team. Reeve did not rule out the possibility that Pearson’s brand will subsume Lumerit’s.

The publisher last made an acquisition in 2016, when it purchased statistical software company Integrated Analytics. Although the Lumerit deal is the company’s first in some time, Reeve says he “wouldn’t call it Pearson moving into acquisition mode.”

“It was just the right company at the right time.”