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The top EdTech deals that are shaking up higher education

SOURCE: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash
In an industry struggling with student retention and graduation rates, colleges are turning to EdTech for a solution.


By Emma Richards 

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EdTech isn’t exactly new but it’s certainly having its moment now. Investments in the industry hit a record high of US$16.3 billion in 2018 and the market has been flooded with products for parents, teachers, and students.

But getting into the education industry isn’t always as straightforward as some others in which startups are booming. It is, after all, a more skilled area than say food delivery. But that hasn’t stopped tech specialists teaming up with education experts to disrupt the field.

Apps, software, products have flooded the market vying for the chance to reach the needs of educators from Kindergarten to university and beyond. In 2018, 1,087 EdTech firms across the planet obtained funding, up more than 33.6 percent from 813 in 2017, according to a report from Metaari.

With this much money in the game, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs are seizing on this exploding industry.

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The attention doesn’t go unwanted, especially in higher education where colleges and universities are struggling with funding, declining enrolment, and poor graduation rates.

Universities are increasingly turning to third parties to help tackle these issues.

The rise of public-private partnerships between universities and EdTech companies has grown significantly as federal funding declines and the products improve.

Within the crowded marketplace, there have been some standout partnerships with companies promising to help turn around the success rates of students and increase retention rates.

Here are some of the bigger partnerships that are shaking up higher ed:

Upswing

Launched in 2013, Upswing isn’t a new kid on the block, but they have chosen to use their expertise for good, helping the more vulnerable students stay in college.

In May, the Texas-based provider of support services raised US$2 million in a fundraising round to prevent drop out among online and non-traditional students. This is on top of the US$5 million they had raised previously.

Upswing is leading the charge to improve college student success, using technology to provide academic support and accessibility for students of all types.

The company’s specific focus is on serving non-traditional and diverse populations, especially in rural communities, and works with more than 10 percent of the 107 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to help more college students graduate.

Partnering with more than 75 colleges and universities throughout the US, Upswing’s platform empowers 700,000 students to excel academically.

Student retention is a major issue for universities and colleges as many struggle to hold on to students and only 40 percent of students complete a 4-year degree within 6 years at the same institution where they started their studies.

This is where Upswing’s appeal lies, according to general partner at New Markets Venture Partners and investor in Jason Palmer.

“Enrolment in colleges and universities is down, so (they’re) way more focused on retaining the students they’ve already got,” Palmer told Education Dive.

ReUp Education

While Upswing works to prevent students from dropping out, ReUp Education targets those who’ve already taken the leap and left college. It is one of the few companies dedicated to re-enrolling those who were unable to stay in education, for whatever reason.

Just this month the company announced its closing of a US$6 million Series A funding round.

“At a time when one in five first-year students don’t return for a second year, supporting students who have stopped-out to help them re-enroll is absolutely critical to fulfilling higher education’s promise of not just access—but completion,” Sarah Horn, CEO of ReUp Education, said in a statement.

“This investment represents both powerful validation of our social impact mission and broader recognition of the imperative of helping adults find a pathway back to college.”

To address this issue, ReUp has developed a three-pronged solution that uses a combination of data, technology, and coaching to support so-called “stop-out” students in their efforts to return to college and mapping out a path to graduation. Building on more than 10 million data points collected over two years, their Engagement Engine and predictive analytics enable teams of professional Success Coaches to prioritise which students to reach out to and when.

The company works communicates on average about 50 times with a dropped out student before he or she re-enrolls.

Since 2015, the company has helped bring back over 8,000 students with the benefit of insights generated from a network of more than thirty partner colleges and universities and more than 400 re-enrolled students have graduated to date.

CourseDog

Coursedog bills itself as a solution to the time-consuming process of figuring out which classes colleges should offer and when.

Scheduling can be a logistical nightmare for a college, with a finite set of classrooms and faculty availability, how can officials offer courses that students want and need to take, at times that instructors can teach?

This New York City-based startup, claims its scheduling software can help with that. It’s still fairly early days for Coursedog having launched in 2018, but the have already caught the attention of some pretty big clients, including Brigham Young University, Columbia Law School and the University of Montana.

The idea for the platform was borne from the personal experience of its CEO Justin Wenig, EdSurge reports.

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When students at Columbia University, both Wenig and his co-founder found the classes they wanted to take clashed in the schedule forcing them to choose between them. This frustration led the pair to question how exactly universities decide on what classes are schedule when. The answer they received was far more primitive than either of them expected, with the college administrators turning to spreadsheets and forms to try and muddle through the complicated process.

The problem wasn’t specific to Columbia. They found on further investigation that many colleges were struggling with the same issue, and so Coursedog was born.

On theplatform, school administrators are able to input information about what facilities are available, and set rules for when courses can be scheduled. Surveys are also sent out to instructors for them to share their preferences for class times, seating layout and tech requirements.

Using all of this information, space constraints and faculty responses, the system recommends a course schedule that maximises the use of time and space.