Emma Collins, Guest Blogger
A number of recent ASPA National Weblog posts have focused on the state of technology startups in this country, and today’s article continues that important discussion. Emma Collins looks at ways in which new educational ventures are changing the way students learn, mostly for the better. Emma writes a lot about online education, and just completed a review of the top online MBA programs of 2012.
How Entrepreneurs Are Meeting the Global Education Need Head On
Within the last two decades, the field of online learning has evolved from a novelty into a major sector of public education. Education-based startups – led by tech-savvy “edupreneurs” – have been at the forefront of this movement, and their contributions have helped shape the way young people are taught in the digital age.
As early as the 1980s, many companies utilized computer-based programs to train their workers. However, these programs remained widely unused until the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was first introduced. In 1994, CALCampus became the first Internet-based educational resource; when the company proved successful with the web-using public, more institutions began to emerge. In the years that followed, chat functions, webcams and other technological advents were incorporated into the field of online education. Online programs for students of all ages – from kindergarten to college – have also become increasingly popular within the last decade. Between the 2004-05 and 2009-10 academic years, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that enrollment in online-based K-12 programs rose 300 percent; meanwhile, US News & World Report notes that enrollment in web-based college courses has risen for nine consecutive years.
Despite the popularity of web-based learning institutions, many critics have expressed concern about the online education movement. Miami Teacher’s Union President Karen Aronowitz recently told The New York Times that online education is widely employed as a means of saving money – not because of any proven benefits for students. Criticism has also been leveled at college-level online learning due to perceived inferiority to traditional, brick-and-mortar academics, but many say the biggest worry concerns web-based, for-profit institutions like University of Phoenix (currently the largest university in the United States with more than 300,000 students enrolled). Though these institutions bill themselves as legitimate learning centers, Eric Kelderman of Houston Chronicle recently noted the “bad reputation” shared by many for-profit schools – namely, that they are scamming students out of thousands of dollars and awarding them with bogus degrees. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued tough new regulations to prevent online universities from taking advantage of students, while Congress has pressured accreditation agencies to strip some of the main offenders of their degree-granting capabilities.
Unlike web-based K-12 and college programs, which represent an alternative (however controversial) to the traditional educational system, most educational startups provide tools or resources that assist school districts and/or supplement classroom studies. Those that award degrees to students use innovative new platforms to appeal to today’s students. As noted by Time contributor Anna Murphy Paul, most edupreneurs hope to “disrupt” the existing educational dynamic by changing the way people learn for the better, while disassociating themselves from the notoriously unscrupulous practices of for-profit colleges. “These entrepreneurs are often running a one-man operation out of a garage or spare bedroom,” she wrote. “They include former (and current) teachers, tutors, school administrators and parents — people whose interest in education goes much deeper than making a buck.”
In a June 2012 article titled “Online education startups: a field guide,” GigaOM writer Ki Mae Heussner noted some of today’s most significant edupreneurial projects. One is UniversityNow, a Bay Area-based venture that allows students to enroll in as many college-level courses as they wish for a flat rate of $199 per month. UniversityNow CEO and Co-founder Gene Wade told GigaOM that rapidly rising tuition rates have prevented many young people from earning a college degree, and his company seeks to provide them with a much-needed alternative. But affordability is merely one aspect of UniversityNow’s appeal; students who enroll in one or more of the company’s courses are able to defer their student loan payments incurred at other universities, and many also receive tax credits. Since its foundation, UniversityNow has raised $17.3 million in venture capital, in addition to a $300,000 grant awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The success of companies like UniversityNow and Codecademy with investors has ensured their long-term market viability, while user-friendly interfaces and relatively low costs have sealed their popularity with the general public. For these reasons, edupreneurs stand to greatly “disrupt” the traditional educational framework in the coming years.
Emma Collins works as a freelance writer and researcher in the South Pugest Sound area (Tacoma, specifically) and us an avid traveler. Recently graduated with her undergrad degree, she is currently considering a Masters Program in Business Analytics, but may get an MBA. When she is not writing, she loves to rock climb and read Sci-fi.