Exclusive: Ascend Learning again exploring possible sale: sources

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 21, 2016 6:28 PM

By Liana B. Baker

(Reuters) - Ascend Learning LLC, a U.S. maker of educational software used in sectors such as healthcare, is exploring a sale that it hopes will value the company at more than $2 billion, including debt, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal would come as buyout firms continue to invest in the educational software sector at time when companies and schools are using more digital tools to enhance learning and reduce some of their operational costs.

Last year, for example, private equity firms TPG Capital LP and Leonard Green & Partners LP acquired Ellucian Company LP, a U.S. provider of software to universities and colleges, for $3.5 billion, including debt.

Ascend's majority owner, private equity firm Providence Equity Partners LLC, has hired investment banks Barclays Plc <BARC.L> and Bank of America Corp <BAC.N> to run the auction for the company, the people said on Monday.

Ascend generates 12-month earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of around $150 million, two of the sources said.

The sources asked not to be identified because the sale process is confidential, and cautioned that there is no guarantee that a sale will happen. Ascend, Providence Equity, Barclays and Bank of America declined to comment.

Based in Burlington, Massachusetts, Ascend offers software programs for testing and certifications in various industries, from nursing to sports medicine. The majority of its revenue comes from the healthcare and public safety sectors.

Ascend was formed in 2010 by Providence Equity after it combined companies it had previously acquired, including nursing school testing company Assessment Technology Institute LLC.

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Providence Equity also owns Blackboard Inc, a U.S. software company that provides learning tools for high school and university classrooms.

It explored a sale of the company in 2015, but then ultimately decided to put it on hold. The private equity firm also has previously invested in education companies ITT Educational Services Inc <ESI.N>, Archipelago Learning and Education Management Corp.

(Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby)