Curriculum Associates Strikes Deal With Berkshire Partners–and Huge Donation Goes to Charity

Managing Editor

The education provider Curriculum Associates has announced it will receive a major investment from Berkshire Partners LLC, in a deal that will leave the school company’s operations intact and result in a huge donation—approximately $200 million—going to a university and a philanthropy.

Earlier this year, Curriculum Associates, a Massachusetts company that has been held privately for 50 years, said it would gift the majority of its shares to a foundation at Iowa State University, and that the company would eventually be sold.

This week, Curriculum Associates officials said they had acted to see that plan through. Berkshire Partners, an investment firm based in Boston, will make a “significant” investment in the company, in what was described as a capital partnership.

The money from the transaction will go to Iowa State University and the Boston Foundation, both of which described the gifts by their standards as extraordinary in size.

Iowa State officials said the donation to the institution is roughly $145 million, money that will go toward a new endowment in support of the university’s college of liberal arts and sciences.

Because the college provides core academic courses to students across every academic major, the gift will benefit “nearly every student at the university,” ISU said in a statement.

“The proceeds from this generous donation will allow us to begin transforming the college and the university for generations of students,” said Iowa State’s interim president, Benjamin J. Allen.

Curriculum Associates’ co-founder, Frank Ferguson, is a graduate of Iowa State University.

The Boston Foundation, which describes itself as one of the largest community foundations in the country, said it will receive $50 million—the largest gift in its history. The philanthropy said that in the time since the basic parameters of the deal were announced in January, the donation has increased in size due to Curriculum Associates’ rapid growth. Paul S. Grogan, the president and CEO of the foundation, called it a “transformative gift.”

EJ Whelan, a managing director at Berkshire Partners, described Curriculum Associates in a statement as a “unique, mission-driven company that has demonstrated remarkable growth.”

Curriculum Associates, which is based in Billerica, Mass., was founded in 1969. It provides a wide range of online and print instructional materials, assessments, and data management platforms.

The company has roughly quadrupled in size over the past few years, said CEO Rob Waldron. It now estimates that it works with more than 300,000 educators and 6 million students nationwide.

The company said it had numerous offers from potential suitors. But Waldron said it was critically important that the company have the assurance from any buyer or investor that Curriculum Associates’ mission be allowed to continue over the long-term, unimpeded, and under the deal with Berkshire Partners, it will.

The company says it will keep its 750 employees and forge ahead with its plans for hiring and product development. Waldron will remain a minority shareholder in the company.

“One of the things for me was that we have a very long-term-thinking partner,” Waldron explained in an interview.

It was important that ISU and the Boston Foundation got the support they needed, and that Curriculum Associates “could go on without any changes to our company,” he added. “All of our plans are still the same, the company’s still the same, the management’s still the same, and we’ve got a very long-term investor…All those goals were met. We’re back at work running our company.”

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