4 school-as-a-service startups that are changing higher education

Image Credit: jcjgphotography/Shutterstock

In the past, online courses and degree programs were viewed as low quality or financially unsustainable, but a variety of factors are now allowing online programs to flourish. Universities throughout the country are adopting School as a Service (SaaS) programs, which offer a way to build, market, and manage online degree programs. A number of technological advancements—as well as a new generation of tech-savvy students—have made it easier for professors and students to work together online.

These programs are attractive because they allow students to access higher education in a more affordable, convenient way. Online learning makes it possible for professors and students to share information and work together via collaborative workspaces, chat features, social networking, and mobile devices.

In the last decade, the online education market has grown significantly and actually outpaced university enrollment. The Babson survey found 6.1 million students—or 31 percent of total post-secondary enrollment—were taking at least one online college course in Fall 2010. In addition, data from Eduventures suggests that in 2010, nearly 14 percent of college students took more than 80 percent of their college courses online, and nearly 30 percent of graduate students are enrolled in online classes.

These numbers show the growing popularity of school-as-a-service programs. But which companies are leading the pack? While some have been offering online educational services for years, most have sprung up only recently. Check out a few of the top organizations making waves in SaaS:

1. 2tor

This startup is the first of its kind to offer full degree programs online at top-tier universities, and it comes highly funded. In April, 2tor’s total investments were just under $97 million. The service partners with universities to help them build, market, and manage their own online degree programs.

2tor creates programs only for top-tier universities and has partnered with just four universities to date — the University of Southern California, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Washington University in St. Louis, and Georgetown University. So far, 2tor has built six online master’s degree programs in business, nursing, social work, law, public administration, and education. 2tor’s exclusivity is allowing it to lead the way as a top-tier SaaS provider.

2. Academic Partnerships

Academic Partnerships works with post-secondary institutions to develop and market online programs, much like other SaaS startups. But this company is distinguished by the fact that it focuses exclusively on public institutions. In the past, public universities weren’t apt to adopt the online model, but in recent years, they’ve been using SaaS to reach a higher number of learners.

Since 2008, Academic Partnerships has partnered with nearly 25 public universities across the country, including Arkansas State University and Ohio University. Its web-based, public model stands to play a significant role in increasing access to higher education for all in the coming years.

3. Altius Education

Many American students enrolled at community colleges intend to transfer eventually to a larger institution to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only 20 percent ever actually do. Altius Education serves to address this problem. The institution is the co-owner (with Tiffin University) of a for-profit online degree program, Ivy Bridge College, which grants associate degrees in the hope that students will ultimately complete their education.

The company is filling the gaps in the community college model and was designed specifically to provide the necessary support structures to help students meet their goal of completing a four-year program. Altius currently graduates or transfers about 60 percent of its students, significantly higher than levels at community colleges. The organization’s online model, along with its counseling and support services, are allowing it to truly stand out in the SaaS space.

4. Deltak Edu

Founded 15 years ago, Deltak remains a long-standing provider of online education. The company offers its services to both public and private nonprofit universities. It uses market research to identify programs with a strong student demand that also meet the goals of partner institutions.

Since its founding, Deltak has partnered with 24 institutions and developed more than 90 online programs. The company has recently employed social media marketing tactics to draw in students, who then work with Deltak program managers to make an informed decision about which program fits their needs. The company’s 24-hour support services and overall commitment to efficiency show this SaaS company will likely enjoy continued growth in the years to come.

As higher education becomes increasingly expensive, school-as-a-service opportunities are projected to grow significantly. Though they were scarce only a decade ago, these online opportunities are transforming the way students learn and progress.

Would you consider earning a degree online? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Zev Gotkin is an entrepreneur and founder of L’Mala, a writing firm specializing in website content development, blogs, branding and social media promotion. He can be reached at wgotkin@gmail.com.

[Top image credit: jcjgphotography/Shutterstock]

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