The coronavirus has erased much of the college’s value proposition: the on-campus experience.
Campuses are closed, sports have been suspended, and naturally students don’t want to pay the same tuition for a fraction of the services. As a result, enrollment is on the decline across the country and the business models of universities are under relentless pressure.
East Carolina University’s entire athletics program has been suspended with pay cuts. Ohio Wesleyan University eliminated 18 majors and consolidated a number of programs to save $ 4 million per year. And Kutztown University in Pennsylvania lost 1,000 students to an online school weeks after its campus reopened, sacrificing $ 3.5 million in room and board costs.
As universities struggle, edtech is positioning itself as a solution to their biggest problem: distance education. Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC), has created a campus product to help schools deliver digital courses quickly. Podium Education raised millions last month to provide universities with credited technology programs. Eruditus has raised over $ 100 million in recent months to create programs for elite universities. In some ways, growth is the story of edtech’s continued rise to power amid the coronavirus pandemic: distance education has forced institutions to put third-party solutions in place to keep operations afloat.
However, while some startups help universities deliver virtual programming overnight, professors in the field are warning their institutions to think long-term about what kind of technologies it is net positive to adopt.
It’s a stress test that could lead to a tally among edtech startups.
“We are talking about the next evolution of textbooks”
As the past eight months have taught us, Zoom-based school is a lackluster alternative to the in-person experience. College campuses are therefore tasked with finding a more creative way to deliver engaging virtual content to students stuck in their dorms.
Coursera launched Coursera for Campus to help colleges offer online (optional credit) courses with built-in exams; more than 3,700 schools around the world use the software.
“Professors would really want really high quality branded content that incorporates ratings if they are to deliver this learning for credit,” said CEO Jeff Maggioncalda. “It’s not the kind of learning you can get on YouTube.”
For now, however, Maggioncalda says he doesn’t think death from a physical experiment on a college campus is the future. He is betting the product can help colleges save money on faculty costs and put that same money back into campus.
“There will be schools that continue to offer a residential experience, and I think what they are going to find is that if your real value proposition is that residential experience, then drive it strongly,” a- he declared. “But make sure you have great content and references available so your students don’t have to make any sacrifices.”
Georgia Tech teacher David Joyner says MOOCs like Coursera “are good for awareness and access, but not good for accreditation.” Instead, he believes edtech must be built first and foremost for universities to be the most effective.
Podium Education, for example, builds courses in partnership with universities to offer credit courses. The newly launched startup raised $ 12 million in October and works with more than 20 colleges. Eruditus, an edtech startup that has raised more than $ 100 million in September, creates courses in collaboration with over 30 elite universities, including MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, IIT and more.
Coursera, Podium, and Eruditus all herald a future where universities could have a plug-and-play model of asynchronously taught curriculum.