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EdTech News Roundup - Week of 5/9
A BA for $9K & Corporations as universities
As always, feel free to write me with what you agree and disagree with here. This newsletter is a way for me to refine my opinions on EdTech topics, they never come out perfectly!
We also have a bonus story - Dartmouth’s med school cheating scandal - that we’ll cover in the context of the ongoing debate around remote proctoring that the gang will talk about in next week’s Clubhouse (Gmail) (Outlook web app).
One of my favorite comic strips of all time is XKCD’s “Standards”
Every time I read a report on credentials in Higher Ed or the Workplace, I think of this comic. I’ll admit that this is a little unfair because I do not have a solution to propose, just general grouchiness.
In addition to everyone’s favorite punching bag, the College Degree (including BA, MA, & PHD), we have Industry Certifications, Technical Certifications, Government Certifications, Bootcamps, Corporate Universities (see below), MOOCs (including “Micro Masters”, “Nanodegrees”, “Mastertracks”, “Specializations” and “Postgraduate certificates”), Cohort-based Courses, and, of course, Linkedin Endorsements.1
Those are just off the top of my head, I’m sure there are more. But, yeah, one more credential can’t hurt. We’ll just wrap them all together, nice and tight.
To end this on a slightly higher note, I did actually like Rebecca Koenig’s proposal for incorporating more credentials on the road to a college degree. Even if some/all of the credentials earned along the way aren’t recognized universally, it is pragmatic in also including a college degree.
Southern Utah University (SUU) is offering a 120-credit Bachelor’s degree for a total cost of $9,000 USD.2 Their statement on the low price for the offering is:
The university is able to offer the online bachelor's degree at one of the lowest prices nationwide partly because officials don't view the program as an opportunity to make a profit but rather enable social mobility.
While I applaud the intent here, I’m concerned. I don’t believe online programs have to be large profit centers subsidizing other parts of the university, but taking out all profit from this program after only 114 students have gone through it feels pretty risky. This is also not coming from an established online provider like SNHU or ASU - SUU has had just under 5,000 online students total since 2012.3
Whether it works out or not, this could be a big moment for SUU. They certainly have my attention and, I hope, the attention of many students similar to Kathryn Bjorling, mentioned in the article:
“When this opportunity presented itself, it made a lot of sense for me because I can afford it based off the income I'm making," Bjorling said. "I don't have to go into debt for any reason, and for me, being debt-free is everything.”
YearUp is a 20 year-old non-profit that runs 12-month bootcamp-like programs to upskill young adults into entry-level corporate jobs. Bootcamps before bootcamps were cool, if you will. Notably, their student population is 18-24 years old with a high school, but no college degree - a more challenging population than most of today’s bootcamps serve.
They recently invested in an RCT to measure the impact their program has on their participants. The headline is that participating in YearUp drove, on average, an ~$8K increase in wages over the 5 years that the study covered, shown below:
In addition to just being generally positive news, I want to call out two things specifically about YearUp.
Measuring efficacy: There is a chicken-or-egg problem in EdTech between go-to-market and impact. If a company has no users, it is hard to prove that the solution works. BUT, putting an unproven solution in front of users could impact their whole educational career. I am glad to see organizations like YearUp scaling their measurement of impact (this is actually their second RCT) as they mature as organizations.4
Working with the hardest to reach populations: One of the things that excites me about the rise of impact investing globally is that we’re seeing EdTech companies formed to solve problems for the hardest-to-reach populations. Edquity, Chipper, and NextStep5 all come to mind as recently formed companies following YearUp’s footsteps.
In an interview with Yahoo! Finance (and their new PE Overlords!), Pearson’s CEO, Andy Bird, talked about what the company is up to post-COVID.
I find the headline buzz word-y and the text of the article uninformative,6 but enjoyed listening to Bird’s answers in the actual video. Two quick points:
Assessments: Bird mentioned assessments 5 times in a 5-minute segment, with a particular emphasis on translating their organizational competency in assessments to helping corporations in developing their workforces.
IP Creation: Bird attempts to disassociate Pearson from “Higher Ed Courseware” by generalizing Pearson’s skillset to “IP Creation.”
These two areas are competitive moats for both Pearson and the other major publishers. They are time-consuming and expensive competencies to build. It should be noted that creating and assessing workforce skills is slightly different than building a chemistry course, but I’m willing to believe that many of the mechanics and roles are similar.
Finally, the reporter, perhaps unintentionally, asked one simple, but fascinating question: “Would you ever get accredited?” Bird…adroitly sidestepped the question so as not to enrage the majority of his customer base, but it is a fun thought exercise to imagine how that would play out.
If USD is your unit of measure. Others might say it costs 15,616 DOGE ; )
IPEDs Fall 2012 - 2019 Distance only students
I also give Jen Carolan and the folks at Reach Capital a lot of credit for putting pen to paper on a framework for addressing this by stage in VC-backed companies.
SEI Portfolio company
Pearson’s “pivot to digital learning” has been going on for years, it is not new. Why is University of Phoenix’s experience in online education helpful to our evaluation of Pearson?