Sponsored by Lane Powell

Boom time for higher education startups

| Print |  Email
Linda Baker
Thursday, July 26, 2012


07.26.12 Blog OnlineEdSuddenly, online higher education startups are all the rage. 

In the past six months, at least seven such startups have launched or announced funding.  And these aren’t just any startups—the majority are spinoffs created by professors or administrators affiliated with some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. 

Founded by Stanford University faculty, Coursera, which has raised more than $16 million in funding, aims to bring top tier classes to the masses—for free. Udacity, another Stanford spinoff, has similar goals.  Aiming to bring Harvard quality education to those who can't afford Harvard tuition, the Minerva Project is chaired by former Harvard president (and U.S. Treasury Secretary) Larry Summers. This past spring, Minerva announced that it raised $25 million from Benchmark Capital, the largest seed financing in that firm's history.

Once considered the lowly stepchild of higher ed, online education has been catapulted into the big leagues, with many of the massive open online classes offered by the new startups attracting upwards of 100,000 students.  As the buzz grows, many universities, which have historically been reluctant to adopt online learning platforms, seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. Coursera, for example, has already partnered with the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, UC San Francisco, University of Washington, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Virginia.

Will Oregon universities, already facing a slew of education reforms,  partner with the new startups?  Will the state join the online spinoff craze? Are these private companies a threat to Oregon universities? Or will private sector online solutions help bring an end to an ignominious era in higher ed—an era marked by endless budget cuts and skyrocketing tuition costs?   

For a few initial thoughts, I turned to Dave King, associate vice provost for outreach and engagement at Oregon State University, (where 10,000 students take classes online annually), Lisa Templeton, executive director of OSU’s extended campus, and Steve Brown, who sits on the Marylhurst University Board of Trustees and is the former president of KC Distance Learning, the country’s largest middle and high school online learning company.  (Brown, on vacation in Italy, responded via email).

OB:  What does the surge in the number of pedigreed online education startups mean for Oregon universities?

King:   I think it’s fascinating. We’ve been watching the massive online courses develop and I’m really pleased that it has opened the conversation. But the fact that the big guns are stepping up to this is possibly a two-edged sword. If you have 160,000 students in a (Coursera) class and you don’t create a truly engaging and interactive class then we’ll see some backsliding. At OSU, we’ve been working really hard to use quality as our goal: student to student interaction, student to instructor interaction. I don’t know that all of those interactions happen effectively in a 160,000 student class.

There is a potential advantage for us in having major institutions with large samples test some things.   We’re watching that very closely. Coursera and others have said upfront they are going to have to embed some level of automated understanding of how students are performing.

OB: Historically, online education has been stigmatized as a lesser form of learning.  Will the new startups help mainstream online learning, and how do the classes offered by the startups compare with new university led online initiatives?

Templeton: Online classes still have that stigma with faculty, but it has shifted. Their image of online is outdated. With the new technologies available, it’s really exciting.

King: We have started looking at open courseware, but are looking at it from the other side  Instead of a one size fits all, we've been working on open learning modules...in which we deconstruct courses into individual learning objectives, then make learning modules available as open courseware.

We are also investing in online degree programs. Six years ago, we had four full degree programs online. Now we're at 30 degree and certificate programs online with two or three more on the books for the coming year.

Brown:  Universities need to be aggressive in exploring different ways online education can impact current models - and not just offer fully online courses. Blended models will ultimately transform higher ed. Oregon universities are largely behind. Smaller, regional and less selective universities need to be most aggressive as they are at most risk.

OB: Will the new startups offer a solution to the budget crises facing higher ed?  Will Oregon universities seed a new crop of education startups?

Brown: I believe we will see a surge of new start ups nationally. Unfortunately, Oregon is not well positioned—there is much more activity at the K-12 level.

King:  We’re having that conversation about greater efficiencies. The big question is what is the level and ability to monetize the process.  The monetization model at this point has to be done as some kind of a spinoff. We are on the doorstep of a brave new world here. In that new world, we’re going to see significant amount of interaction between the public and private sectors.



0 #1 educationGuest 2012-07-27 09:33:04
High Speed Universities programs allow busy adults to earn their degrees online while they meet job and family responsibilitie s. Students earn their degrees through a rigorous competency-base d model that lets them advance through courses when they demonstrate that they have mastered the subject matter.
Quote | Report to administrator

More Articles

100 Best Nonprofits: Working for equality inside and out

October 2015
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Striving for social equity is the mission of many nonprofits, and this year’s 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon survey shows employees are most satisfied with their organizations’ fair treatment of differing racial, gender, disability, age and economic groups. But as a national discourse about racial discrimination and equity for low-income groups takes center stage, data show Oregon’s 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For still need to make progress on addressing these issues within their own organizations.


The 10 most successful crowdfunding campaigns in Oregon

The Latest
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
081915-crowdfundingmainBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

One of the hottest new investment trends has proven quite lucrative for some companies.


The 5 most/least expensive rental neighborhoods in Oregon

The Latest
Thursday, September 24, 2015
092515neighborhoodthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Oregon's population is booming, and so are rental costs.


The List: 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon

October 2015
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oregon Business magazine’s seventh annual 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For project attracted more than 150 nonprofits from around the state from a variety of sectors, including social services and environmental advocacy.  More than 5,000 employees and volunteers filled out the survey, rating their satisfaction with work environment, mission and goals, career development and learning, benefits and compensation, and management and communications.


Ranking the airlines that fly PDX

The Latest
Friday, August 14, 2015

17 airlines make stops at Portland International Airport, but not all are created equal when it comes to customer service.


Light Reading

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ask any college student: Textbook prices have skyrocketed out of control. Online education startup Lumen Learning aims to bring them down to earth.


Downtime with Patrick Criteser

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

Live, Work Play with the President and CEO of Tillamook County Creamery Association.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02