Randy Best is a mega-rich entrepreneur who has become the big man on the University of Akron campus, if only in the offices of President Scott Scarborough and his servile board of trustees. Best was just awarded a lucrative contract for an online nursing program in which his Texas-based company, Academic Partnerships, will receive half of the tuition from students who sign on. Half? Nice work if you can get it. And Best knows how to get a lot of it.
But the subplot to Best's huge success story, insofar as he embraces UA, is that he and Scarborough have had intersecting careers for years in which the latter has had Best's business model coursing through his grand plan to rebrand UA, relieve some of the school's debt and apply whatever other strategies that leave academia in the distant past. That not only includes Scarborough's passion for online courses but also his promotion of hired off-campus "coaches" for students.
As Forbes magazine once described Best's M.O. to profit from a university's treasury, his three R's are "recruitment, retention and revenue". It quoted his bottom line judgment on academic matters: : "The Stanfords, the Harvards, of my gosh, those schools are remarkable. But they're irrelevant to the market."
A think-alike Texan yoked with Scarborough, Best is also active in national politics, having raised millions of dollars for former President George W. Bush. And Jeb Bush is an investor in Best' s enterprises.
Scarborough, of course, will deny the linkage defined in a growing number of media reports. He prefers to call it nothing more than just another day at the office in his heroic effort to cut UA's debt. But don't believe it. He's already cashed in his credibility as the CEO on the reeling downtown campus even though he's admitted his mistakes in ramping up his grand designs on the ailments of higher education. The paper trail is simply too persuasive .
Some tell-tale evidence: As the chief financial officer at DePaul University in Chicago, Scarborough recommended the sale of Barat College, a tiny Catholic school, to Best's company in 2005 and that would include accreditation, land and buildings. You can only believe that the transaction would have had a lengthy get-acquainted period as the details fell into place.
Eureka! As part of the deal, Scarborough landed a seat on the new owner's board.
There he remained, the Plain Dealer reported, until 2007, when he became chief financial officer at the University of Toledo, giving up his board seat on Higher Ed Holdings, the company's new name.
He became Best's go-between to the provost in which Best offered an online master's degree in an education program for teachers. Sorry, the College of Education said, and turned it down. Undaunted, Best came back with an online nursing program with Scarborough serving as his greeter. Again he was rejected.
Academic Partnerships then scored with Ohio University in 2008 for the nursing program. But OU has since cancelled it. Randy Leite, dean of the College of Health Sciences, told the PD: "We found over time that the quality and level our students expected was not being met." Meantime, Best had collected 50 pct. of the tuition.
And so the ship has now come in at the UA, with Scarborough saying he only had been contacted by Academic Partnerships and turned over its proposals to the trustees for them to decide. He said he was surprised that it was accepted by a "consensus". Really? With this board?
You may have noticed that Scarborough has met the critics by saying that rather than enhancing his friend Randy Best's business opportunities, he simply made a few introductions.
And at the University of Akron, based on their feathery track record how could the trustees possibly resist? By the looks of things, Team Scarborough ain't done yet.