The year 2020 was a historic moment in education. More specifically, in edtech.
In 2019, the educational technology sector in the U.S. was worth about a billion dollars. In 2020, the industry received more than $2.2 billion in venture and private equity capital, marking the highest single year of investment in the history of the sector. Now, the question is how edtech innovators will proceed to make their mark.
Everspring is a digital enablement firm that helps universities such as Northwestern, the University of Kansas and The College of William & Mary design, build, market and run distinctive online programs, primarily for graduate programs. The edtech services company was founded in 2012 at a dining room table by education professionals Jeff Conlon and Beth Hollenberg. The two had just left their prior roles and were eager to launch their next company.
“We felt that there was a tremendous opportunity that was not being realized to bring higher quality online support and innovation to traditional higher education,” said Conlon.
Turns out, they were right. The two founders correctly anticipated the need to prepare universities for digitization. Higher education had been building digital learning momentum for years, but the circumstances of 2020 forced the entire sector online at lightning speed. Everspring was in a prime position to handle the urgent demands of educational institutions.
Built In Chicago connected with Everspring’s Conlon and Hollenberg to better understand the outlook of edtech. Here are the five most significant insights they’ve had from inside the industry during this period of explosive growth.
1) Higher education is a trade like any other.
Conlon: “Most people don’t think of higher education as a business, but it is. In fact, the model where students pay to gain knowledge from a professor in the front of the room is one of the most enduring business models in the history of the world, effectively unchanged for hundreds of years. Historically, to benefit from higher education, a student needed to be in the same room as the professor. Over the past decade, this slowly began to change as universities dabbled in online delivery through continuing education departments.”
2) Online delivery used to be tolerated; now sophisticated digital delivery is expected.
Hollenberg: “The pandemic took emerging trends in digital delivery and online education and put them on steroids. Adoption of online delivery options for core academic master’s degree programs experienced the equivalent of 10 years’ worth of growth in 10 weeks.
This had massive implications for the edtech business. First, universities realized they not only needed to “go digital,” but needed to transform themselves to “be digital.” Taking what was delivered face-to-face and moving it to remote delivery via a Zoom lecture was a horrible experience for students and faculty alike, and the end result in many cases was not worth the tuition being charged.
Second, students — especially graduate students — preferred the flexibility of not being forced to relocate and quit a good job to pursue their degree, and many students who shifted to digital delivery for their programs will be reluctant to return to programs that lock them into on-campus delivery as the only option.”
3) Universities need expert support to deliver an excellent educational experience online and keep up with the fast-paced world of education technology.
Conlon: “The increased acceptance of digital delivery — in online, hybrid and blended formats — has created a huge opportunity to work with universities to create strategies that move education online in a high-quality, brand-enhancing way. We have seen the needs — and benefits — of partnering across the full spectrum of services, from marketing to academic support to student services to technology implementation. We have responded to these needs by providing a full toolkit, ranging from self-service software such as our CourseBuilder tool to full technology and service implementations to assist universities in building multiple courses in the online medium quickly and affordably, but also with a sophisticated look and feel. We also launched new products to provide universities with enhanced marketing support, as many do not have well-developed central marketing teams that understand how to attract and enroll students in an entirely digital environment.”
4) The online program management and support sector offers massive opportunities for individual and institutional expansion.
Conlon: “Everspring’s growth over the last year has been robust. We’ve helped universities increase enrollment in their programs, expanded our support to additional programs and schools within universities, added new universities to our partnership portfolio, and launched new products that let us directly reach students seeking non-degree and certificate programs. Our growth has created opportunities for us to hire new employees and opened up tremendous career growth and advancement opportunities for our existing team. We foresee this trend continuing.”
5) Quality matters.
Hollenberg: “The ultimate product in an education business is not only program size but academic engagement and outcomes. If faculty and students aren’t engaged, if students are not mastering meaningful and relevant skills, and if they do not graduate and get better opportunities, then the product has failed.
We are proud to deliver some of the best outcomes in the sector, with outstanding net promoter scores and high student and faculty satisfaction. Students routinely report satisfaction scores for the programs we support in the mid-to-high 90 percent range. They graduate at rates that meet and often substantially exceed comparable on-campus graduation rates for the same programs. Moreover, graduates of Everspring-powered programs consistently report receiving a promotion within a year of program completion and an increase in salary following program completion. This is why they are pursuing a graduate degree, to improve their career outcomes.
Our deep understanding of how education works and the talent that we have hired have enabled Everspring to deliver exceptional results to our university partners, and through them, to the students enrolled in the programs we support.”
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