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EdTech Thoughts 9/6 - 9/11
Episode V: The Degree Strikes Back
I wore a sweater yesterday and Pumpkin Spice Cookies are back at Trader Joe’s - Fall is in the air. Sending positive vibes to everyone navigating the back-to-school rush.
On to the news!
Funding / M&A
Docquity raises $44M: Singapore-based Docquity provides a specialized Q&A forum for doctors. Community-driven education has been a thing for a while - headlined by companies like Stack Overflow and Career Karma - but I am increasingly interested in it as a standalone modality that sits between in-person and online. Platforms like Docquity will need to be more engaging than the discussion forum ghosts of LMSes past; a problem which may be helped by starting with niche, highly-engaged populations like doctors
Edupia raises $14M: Hanoi-based Edupia provides online classes and tutoring services targeted at K12 students outside of Vietnam’s major cities. This go-to-market strategy appears to be working for the company, which has grown to 400K paying users in their four years of operations.
Nexford University raises $8M: Washington DC-based Nexford University provides a job-focused, US-accredited bachelor’s degree to students around the world. It seems the company has continued building on last year’s traction, more thoughts on them below
Code First Girls raises $4.5M: London-based Code First Girls is a coding bootcamp focused on training women and non-binary people for software development jobs
IXL Learning acquires Emmersion: IXL Learning is a growing conglomerate of language learning products, headlined by Rosetta Stone. Emmersion is an enterprise-focused language assessment platform that can test learners in both speaking and writing across nine languages
The Credential Wars Episode V: The Degree Strikes Back
Long, long ago, on a tiny island three thousand two hundred and nineteen miles away from Harvard, a small cadre of monks gathered in a pasture, determined to bring enlightenment to the dark ages. And it worked! Oxford produced heads of state, brilliant academics, famous thinkers, and thousands of copycat “universities” around the world.
Unfortunately, the university order, whose entrance was determined by an infamously arcane set of numbers and exit produced mostly “critical thinkers”, calcified with age.
Just when all hope seemed lost, a new university model emerged. It would be faster, better, and cheaper (but still profitable, of course) than Oxford and its imperial counterparts.
The new model benefitted from a media | campaign - “The College Degree is Dead” - that | was | surprisingly | catchy, though not entirely grounded in reality. Startups worldwide jumped into the college alternatives market.
Which made this week’s news that Multiverse, Outlier, and Nexford University would be doubling-down on the Oxford (degree-based) model all the more interesting. Taken on their own, each organization’s rationale for offering degrees makes reasonable strategic sense:
Nexford has always pursued a degree-offering model, but now have enough traction to draw the interest of some of the leading investors in the space
Multiverse does not appear to be changing much of their model, but rather completed the hard work of proving to UK accreditors that their training programs were rigorous enough to merit a degree
Outlier has been aligned with universities from their founding, though this announcement suggests a more substantial pivot back towards a direct-to-consumer go-to-market model after discussing a university sales approach in their Series B fundraise. I’m curious whether they will seek similar degree partnerships for other programs and markets
In aggregate, these three decisions start to feel more like a strike back (sorry) against the narrative of the college degree being dead. They reinforce that, regardless of whether it is “right”, consumers still place a lot of value in traditional degrees.
Ultimately, there will be sequels (sorry sorry sorry) to this story. If you want to skip ahead to the end, the moral is that all the main characters are related - many degrees are changing to incorporate more skills and degree alternative are adhering to more rigorous academic standards. The issue at hand is just how fast these changes should occur.
It took me a while to get the Story (above) and Positive News (below) written, so just short takes here!
School is for everyone: Helpful context on the history of the US Public School system from Anya Kamenetz
ACICS to shut down; thoughts on accreditation: You know an organization is in trouble when the lobbying group theoretically tasked with supporting it leaves them out to dry. Career Education Colleges and Universities President on the closure, “This decision will have no impact on 99 percent of for-profit institutions and thus should not be interpreted as a rebuke of the for-profit college sector”
A more refined take on student loan reform: I was not impressed with Mitch Daniel’s WSJ op-ed on loans last week, this interview was better
Where did the ESSER funding go?: 2024 is going to be a big year for the US public school system, when pandemic funds start to run out
Positive News of the Week
Buchholz High School in Gainesville Florida is the sixty-sixth best high school in Florida. It is ranked outside of the top one thousand high schools in the US. They employ a burned out former bond trader with no apparent teacher training as a math teacher.1
The math teacher, Will Frazer, has also led the Buchholz High Math Team to 13 of the past 14 national math championships.
This story is awesome. The team’s success stems from the pipeline of math students Frazer starts recruiting as far back as elementary school, well before they reach his classrooms and/or math team. Just as importantly, Frazer’s pedagogy does not focus on rote memorization, but rather critical thinking and peer to peer (or near-peer-to-peer) workshops.
He does not mention an NPS score for his classes,2 but anecdotal reports suggest that the curriculum is highly engaging with students across age groups regularly filling up his summer math camps.
Is this how ALL math should be taught? Is it perfectly sound academically? Who knows, probably not. But the story is fascinating and brightened my week during a generally down news cycle.
Ed Tech Thoughts is a short ( < 5 mins), weekly overview of the top stories in EdTech, with a few (hopefully interesting) gut reactions attached. If you enjoyed this edition, I hope you will subscribe and/or forward to your friends!
If I missed something, or there is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I encourage you to submit a story! Submissions can be named or anonymous
I say this tongue-in-cheek, he is clearly smart and has done great things for the school. He describes himself as burned out and also admits to having made enough money by age twenty-seven that he didn’t need a paycheck anymore!