Finding Value for Adult Learners at ASU GSV
The annual migration of ed-tech venture capitalists, start-up executives, innovators, and educators descended on San Diego last week for the ASU-GSV conference—now in its 10th year addressing the most pressing challenges facing education. As the Varsity Blues admissions scandal and NCAA basketball tournament scrolled by on every TV, there was a particularly palpable sense that the pace of change in higher education needs to accelerate.
The challenge, however, was separating the promising initiatives from the noise. Among the bread and circuses of acquisitions, reboots, expansions, and innovations on display, we paid special attention to those trying to better serve the roughly 40,000,000 working adult learners, the under-skilled, and marginally employed. Here’s a sampling of companies, projects, and schools with impact for these students worth watching:
A New 2U
Even before most attendees arrived, news was out that online program management (OPM) leader 2U was acquiring boot camp provider Trilogy for $750,000,000. Trilogy’s experience building institutional-based boot camp experiences, enrolling more than 20,000 students in 46 schools, broadens the range of services 2U can offer—from online graduate degree programs to on-ground software coding certificates. Perhaps it’s a recognition that blended learning experiences will be more compelling to students.
This move also significantly expands the footprint for 2U and Trilogy; they can now reach 68 institutions, including several continuing education and extension schools serving adult learners. Watch this new 2U for more signs of diversification.
With the ink still drying on 2U’s announcement, the Minerva Project revealed that its high-touch, low-cost pedagogical model is poised to scale. An upcoming release of its Active Learning Forum will accommodate as many as four hundred students simultaneously, up from only dozens a few years ago. Its leader, Ben Nelson, views the recent admissions scandal as evidence that students will aggressively seek alternatives to conventional enrollment pathways and learning environments. Once hailed as the “most selective school in the world,” accepting only hundreds from a pool of 16,000 applicants, Minerva aspires to broaden its impact and continue to validate its approach.
Watch Minerva to see whether this Roman goddess of wisdom will scale abroad or in the U.S. while maintaining fidelity to technology-enabled, contextualized learning.
Goodbye Bridgepoint, Hello Zovio
Casting itself as an “education technology services company” rather than an OPM, Zovio is emerging out of its origins as Bridgepoint Education. Zovio will now take formerly-for-profit Ashford University (also formerly owned by Bridgepoint Education) on as its first client. Zovio suggested that it will eventually offer its services and technology capabilities to other institutions seeking to grow enrollment in online programming, with a particular focus on personalization and carefully-tailored support services.
Zovio’s recent acquisition of Fullstack Academy, a coding boot camp, coupled with the newly announced purchase of online tutoring platform, TutorMe, suggests it could be aggressively targeting the adult learner market. Watch and see whether Zovio can carve out a niche and distinguish itself from its Bridgepoint past.
Another New Kid on the Block
Our informative conversation with Heather Hiles, the newly-minted CEO of the California Online Community College District, revealed yet another effort to address the needs of working adults. With $160,000,000 of funding at stake, Hiles says that this new statewide “district” is being designed to upskill its students so they can earn a living wage. As income disparities widen in California—perhaps a harbinger for the rest of the U.S.—conferring a formal credential, per se, will not be the immediate goal of this new entity. Instead, students will have access to an online platform, a scaffold of job-ready skills, and extensive onboarding support and mentorship.
Keep an eye on this potentially game-changing public entity, funded by employers and the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU), keenly focused on rectifying economic inequalities.
Targeting Upward Mobility through On-Ramps Programs
Strada Education Network’s showcase of research into exemplary on-ramps programs illustrated that there’s a vibrant, albeit small-in-scale, ecosystem of non-credential pathways for working adults. Strada estimates that about 100,000 adult learners are taking advantage of some form of on-ramps programs, most of which are locally funded and managed and directly associated with employers. While promising, on-ramps’ collective impact remains limited when compared with the 1,000,000 working adults enrolled in community colleges.
Among the more promising examples of innovative and successful on-ramps programs were: Techtonic, the only Department of Labor-approved software coding apprenticeship program; Kenzie Academy, a career academy utilizing income-sharing agreements; and JVS San Francisco, a high-touch career pathway program utilizing Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding. It’s worth watching to see whether these models can serve as greenhouses for broader innovation in higher education.
Visualizing the Future of Work
WorkingNation’s presence at ASU GSV illustrated the renewed focus on working adult learners. Neither driven by a new employment algorithm nor an artificial intelligence enabled platform, WorkingNation has a simple mission: tell the story of how work and workplaces are changing, and highlight the exemplary solutions that can alleviate income inequities and create more opportunities. WorkingNation is an ASU GSV outlier—a non-profit, media production group, aiming to create a multiplier effect by communicating stories of how work is changing.
Colleges and universities should take note of WorkingNation as a source for timely and relevant insights, and a channel to communicate their own experiences in anticipating the future of work in the U.S.
Looking Backward, Looking Forward
Amid the noise of ASU GSV, we found solid evidence of authentic interest in the plight of adult learners who lack affordable pathways to income stability. From the nascent on-ramps programs, to California’s new community college, to a new 2U, there’s a notable pattern of a deeper responsiveness and relevance of programs, rather than a “build-it-and-the-adult-learner-will-come” approach.
For those focused on adult learners, ASU GSV provided much more than the usual distractions of bread and circuses. The question now will be whether these new efforts will impact the students and schools who never made it to San Diego.
CHLOE 3: Behind the Numbers is the third in a series of annual reports based on a survey of chief online officers from all sectors of U.S. higher education. In its third year, the annual CHLOE survey grew to 280 chief online officer responses from 182 in the previous survey – a 54% increase – further expanding the range and variety of institutional responses and increasing the representativeness of the results. As online learning continues to increase in scale and scope in higher education, CHLOE shines a light on the strategic and operational side of online learning, helping leaders and practitioners better understand trends and developments.
Presented by Richard Garrett, Eduventures Chief Research Officer, ACT | NRCCUA and Ronald Legon, Executive Director Emeritus, Quality Matters, the webinar will discuss enrollment trends, the typical structure of online courses, institutional governance practices for online programs, and analysis of online quality assurance as a process.
Learn more about our team of expert research analysts here.
Also in Technology Research
We all want to predict the future. When it comes to the future of higher education technology, many of us look to market activity for clues. For example, some see Anthology's acquisition of Blackboard and the $2 billion purchase of Instructure by the private equity...
Many commentators have suggested that higher education’s response to the pandemic will result in permanent changes in teaching and learning. For example, our upcoming report, The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE), suggests that online leaders expect...
Most discussions about digital content concentrate on pricing and cost. Proponents of open educational resources, for example, point to how these resources help students avoid the high cost of textbooks. Likewise, many textbook publishers have shifted to an inclusive access model where all students receive textbooks and the cost is included in tuition.