Pearson agrees to buy eCollege for $477 mln

LONDON (Reuters) - Pearson Plc PSON.L, the world's largest educational publisher, said on Monday it had agreed to acquire eCollege ECLG.O for $477 million, sending shares in the online education firm 6 percent higher.

The deal is worth $22.45 per share and includes a sale of its Datamark division for $41 million to a group of investors led by eCollege’s chairman and chief executive Oakleigh Thorne, Pearson said.

“This acquisition extends Pearson’s position as the world’s leading education company and supports its goals of building its digital and international education businesses,” it said in a statement.

Pearson expected the deal would be earnings neutral in 2008 and enhance adjusted earnings per share from 2009.

It plans to close the deal, subject to approval by shareholders, in the third quarter.

Founded in 1996, eCollege provides a range of on-demand software services including course management, virtual campuses, and assessment, reporting and retention monitoring tools.

The company, which supports around 180 institutions, with student enrollments of 1.2 million in 2006, generated sales of $52 million and operating profit of $22 million last year.

Shares in Pearson were up 1.7 percent at 868-1/4 pence by 1535 GMT. eCollege shares rose 5.9 percent to $22.15.