In California, there is an average of one college counselor for every 1000 high school students in the public high school system. That means counselors can offer about ten minutes of their time per student each year. Unigo, which began with the goal of building the best online college guide, is moving into a new space, looking to solve the crunch in places like California with by offering virtual college counseling through streaming web video.
Launching the virtual guidance was an effort to diversify Unigo’s revenue stream. But founder and chief executive says it has helped grow the site’s web presence as well. “We’ve been doubling our traffic every month since September and have now reached more than 1 million unique visitors a month,” Unigo founder and chief executive Jordan Goldman told VentureBeat by phone.
In September of last year, Unigo raised $1.6 million from McGraw-Hill. It was an unusual move for the textbook giant, which had never made a venture capital investment in a startup before. But it makes a lot of sense given Unigo’s new strategy. McGraw-Hill had the reputation and connections to help Unigo negotiate deals with school districts who want to cheaply expand the amount of college guidance they can offer to students. Purchasing remote video time for students is a lot less expensive and more flexible for school districts than hiring additional full-time staff.
“There are really two sides of this story,” Goldman VentureBeat. “School districts are overwhelmed by the number of students who need help. At the same time, the law says these counselors can’t offer their services to students from their own schools after hours. Private tutoring is extremely expensive, in the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. So there is a real need for a more efficient way to match the supply and demand.”
Unigo is working to sign up college counselors who can earn extra income by offering their services to students who are not getting enough help at their school. Once it has a big supply of opinions from students and counselors, Goldman says Unigo plans to begin offering this data to colleges in the form of market research. “We are going to be the best resource for raw, unfiltered opinions from students and counselors about specific schools.”
In January Unigo officially relaunched as a marketplace for college guidance, shifting the focus on its homepage to highlight 1-on-1 help from admissions and financial aid experts. McGraw-Hill is clearly hoping that the burgeoning world of online education and college guidance will help to make up for its declining textbooks sales, which have dropped each quarter for the last year and a half.