Ed-tech Startups Stepping in to Bridge the Skills Gap, Improve College Graduation Rates

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on June 14, 2016 at 10:42 am
Ed-tech Startups Stepping in to Bridge the Skills Gap, Improve College Graduation Rates

Higher education is one of those things that’s stayed the same for decades, lagging behind the needs of employers today as companies struggle to find qualified graduates. With many schools failing to prepare the nation’s college graduates, a crop of education startups has emerged. These ed-tech startups are aiming to fill the skills gap and transform the way students learn, using technology to bring a new pulse to higher education.

“There are a number of institutions that are struggling to ensure students are career-ready upon graduation, causing an overall shift in the focus,” says Dave Jarrat, a spokesman for InsideTrack, a student and college coaching company. “A decade ago it was how to get more people in college and over the last decade, it’s how to get more people not only through college but ensure they are successful after college.”

Some of the companies have been around for a few years, while others are just emerging. There’s non-profits, professors, entrepreneurs and investors all trying to make their mark on what they see as a changing landscape in higher education. With that in mind, here’s a look at three of the education startups trying to bridge the skills gap and improve the outcomes for students around the country.

Copley Systems helps identify students at-risk of not graduating

Graduation rates after six years are hovering around 50 percent, which means a lot of people are dropping out, saddled in many instances with tons of student debt. Copley Systems out of Weston, Fla., which in July raised $1.5 million in a round of funding led by USA Funds and including existing investors Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Maverick, and Tom DiBenedetto, a limited partner in the Boston Red Sox, thinks the dropout rate can be lowered if schools have a way to know early on that someone is struggling.

The result of thousands of interviews with people in all levels of academia, Copley Systems came up with a software-based alert system that will clue college and university counselors in early on if a student is at risk of dropping out. Copley uses complex algorithms to analyze data from student information systems and learning management systems to flag at-risk students. The most recent iteration of Copley’s software came out in May and is being used at San José State University and Linn Benton Community College. Copley says other schools are in the process of bringing it on.

“This is really helping students who are in need but can’t be identified,” says Ed Clougherty, vice president of retention at Copley Systems. “We can’t get them help and if we let that go on for too long, the student’s mindset that he or she can’t do this begins to calcify.”

edX offers free MOOCs to help bridge skills gap

Start-ups can come in many forms and there are even the ones that aren’t in it to make money but to exact change. And that is where edX comes in. Founded by Harvard and MIT, edX is an online learning platform and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provider, offering classes from more than 90 universities and institutions to learners everywhere for free. The non-profit has more than 24 million course enrollments in more than 950 courses and continues to see a lot of demand in a wide array of topic areas. One of its most popular courses, HarvardX Introduction to Computer Science, had more than a 1,000,000 course registrations.

“This steady interest is directly tied to a growing worldwide need for access to quality education as skills requirements become more specialized across the global economy,” says Anant Agarwal, edX chief executive and MIT Professor. “Rapid developments in technology and new innovations in science and engineering have created a growing global skills gap. With edX, learners have the ability to gain the necessary skills to fill critical jobs in today’s marketplace.”

InsideTrack streamlines, improves student counseling quality

Inside Track of San Francisco isn’t new to the student coaching world, after all, it’s been training students, colleges and universities for more than a decade. But interest in its services is red hot now, with the company seeing tremendous growth in recent years. “We’ve coached about 1.3 million students and currently work with over 1,300 academic programs across the country,” says Jarrat. Improving outcomes is a major focus with higher education and “coaching as a process for doing that has become widely accepted.”

Inside Track works with students from the beginning of their college career and throughout to ensure they have the right skills and experience to succeed upon graduation. Leveraging technology, it’s automating a slew of information and resources so counselors can spend more time on the student’s unique situation rather than handling things that don’t need human interpretation.

“A lot of students have questions about financial aid and in the past, it was normal for a student to talk to a coach about very basic questions like when is the deadline for financial aid,” says Jarrat. “We’ve made all that information available through a mobile app and website so they can watch videos, access the forms and get checklists.”

Big data isn’t lost on Inside Track either. The company is also engaged in predictive modeling to tell which students are likely to face challenges and what intervention or actions will most likely change the outcome for the student.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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