Deals

UniversityNow makes college degrees accessible to anyone with a computer

Above: CEO and founder Gene Wade

Image Credit: Facebook

UniversityNow has closed $20.4 million in funding to break the U.S. out of its educational “Code Red.”

UniversityNow is building a network of accredited, online universities where students earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at a low cost and in a flexible environment. Its goal is to make higher education more affordable and accessible for people everywhere through the intelligent use of technology.

“Our vision is a world in which no one is deprived of access to quality education — a world in which students can obtain recognized college degrees that improve their futures, without taking on the burden of student debt,” the company said on its site.

UniversityNow powers online learning environments where students can receive individualized instruction, set the pace of their own learning, get dynamic feedback on their progress, and tap into peer networks for collaboration and support.

Students start by taking initial assessments to gauge their knowledge and adapt their curriculum accordingly. Then through a combination of online videos, textbooks, assignments, assessment tools, and discussions with instructors and classmates, students move through the course until they are ready for final exams, which can be taken at home.

The experience of attending college has not changed for hundreds of years. Students may do work on computers now, but they are still attending in-person lectures, completing assignments at the same time as their classmates, and paying an exorbitant amount of money to do it.

During a panel on higher education at TechCrunch Disrupt, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the current system of higher education is not scalable. It is no longer relevant in our rapidly changing world and we are in an educational “Code Red.”

“If you went back in time 200 years ago, the classroom then looks a lot like contemporary classroom today, in terms of student and professor relationships,” Newsom said.” That broadcast model is still at work today in some of finest universities in the world. This is comedic. We need a whole new model of education that takes the latest in terms of how we learn and incorporates it into a new platform of engagement that makes learning more interesting, meaningful, and life long.”

Furthermore, with rising tuition costs and student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion, getting an accredited degree is not  feasible for a significant number of people, particularly with no guarantee of a job after graduation.

UniversityNow offers accredited bachelors and masters degrees at a tiny fraction of the cost, and is well-suited to people who can’t or don’t want to spend years on a physical campus. The network currently includes two schools — New Charter University and Patten University.

Tuiition is a fixed and flat rate, charging per month or per term, rather than by credits. New Charter costs $199 a month for undergrad and $329 for graduate students.  This is somewhat less than the $40,000 a year I paid for college, not including books.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, EdX, and Khan Academy share a similar mission of making higher education more accessible using the Internet. However these portals focus on individual courses and don’t offer full degrees.

UniversityNow, rather than acting as a supplement or place to acquire specific skills, is a modernized way to earn a traditional degree.

Bertelsmann SE & Co, First Analysis Corps, University Ventures, Novak Biddle Partners, Kapor Ventures, an Bronze Capital contributed to this third round. Last year, UniversityNow announced raising $17.3 million, as well as a $300,000 research grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. This brings the total capital raised to $42 million.

UniversityNow is based in San Francisco.