A version of this interview originally appeared on Ideometry. Special thanks to Camden Gaspar.
Fintech, foodtech, martech — there’s no lack of shorthand names for the booming tech sectors that are upending the inefficiencies in almost every industry imaginable. Yet, there’s one that has been somewhat overlooked so far: edtech.
Not for long though. The education and learning sector is undergoing some transformational changes, and edtech companies are leading the charge with innovative solutions that are helping schools at all levels better serve their students and run their operations more efficiently. With investments in edtech set to reach $252 billion globally by 2020, it’s clear that the potential of this industry is being recognized in a big way.
In our latest interview series — The Era of Exceptional Edtech — we’ve spoken with some of the most prominent and groundbreaking founders in Boston’s edtech space to learn how they’re helping universities adapt to the rapid technological changes happening today.
To start things off, we interviewed David Kozhuk, cofounder of uConnect. David and his team are working to better connect career services to the rest of the university with the goal of preparing students for the jump to a career as early as possible. Read on to learn how uConnect is doing it.
Give us your elevator pitch for uConnect.
We are a marketing platform that colleges and universities use to make career education a part of campus culture and daily student experience.
What do you think are some of the biggest reasons that students are so averse to the career center?
In speaking to career educators and students themselves, we’ve found that there’s a common misconception about what the career center is there for. Specifically, I think the biggest reason students are averse to it is that career centers tend to be very transactional. “I need a job/internship, so I’ll go there.” It’s very “come in, get what you need, leave.” Some career centers see themselves that way as well.
But ideally, a career center should be a holistic service students use throughout their whole journey. We talk to a lot of career centers who hear from students that “I don’t need career centers because I’m not looking for a job now,” or, “My resume isn’t ready.” That’s tough to hear for career centers because they literally exist to help students do those exact things.
This misconception causes students to feel like they are not ready to engage with the career center and actually can cause career services to come off as intimidating for many students. We’re helping career centers combat that by delivering softer content like student success stories, industry insights and data about alumni pathways. Delivering less transactional content in a way that is fun and engaging, akin to how students consume content on their favorite social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat makes career research more accessible and encourages deeper engagement in a more comfortable setting.
Do you see a trend in more schools — including traditional liberal arts schools — turning to more well-defined college-to-career models of education?
The focus on career services and student outcomes is a bigger focus than it was even a few years ago. Student debt is skyrocketing and schools want to prove that there’s a return on investment for students.
While it would be nice for students to pursue higher education or continuing education for purely learning outcomes, the decision to pursue an advanced degree isn’t practical for most without a vision of an outcome and the confidence that it will lead to greater income potential. Some liberal arts professors might not like the emphasis on vocationalism, but we feel like we want to integrate career-minded advice into academics. Students shouldn’t only be picking classes based on what time of day they’re at. They should be choosing them based on their long-term career goals. We can help students know what classes to take.
Say a student wants to be a marketer when he or she graduates. There might be some classes outside the typical marketing curriculum that would benefit them by making them more attractive to employers, but they might not know about them. We want students to educate themselves on the classes, clubs, and opportunities that already exist on campus to help them reach their career goals.
We provide recommendations based on intended outcomes, such as what industries and companies they might want to work for. This will also help academic advisors better serve students. Students meet with their academic advisors every year, but not nearly as often with the career center. We’re trying to bridge the two.
How is higher-education changing in the tech/software and social media driven world?
Labor market data is more available and accessible than ever before, which allows schools to more closely connect their curriculum, programs and services to relevant outcomes for their students. The data suggests that students graduating in the class of 2017 will have 15 jobs on average. People don’t graduate and work at one job for 30 years anymore. They can expect to have many jobs and learn many skills in their careers.
A few things are emerging. Liberal arts is back. People have knocked liberal arts because the perception is that it costs so much and that students who graduate from those programs don’t know what to do when they graduate. But it’s coming back because it turns out that specialization can limit you in the professional world. Liberal arts gives you a wide range of skills, including problem-solving and thinking abstractly. Integrating career-minded resources into the liberal arts curriculum helps students understand how to use those diverse skills in an ever-evolving career.
There’s also a trend toward lifelong learning — look at the popularity of programs like General Assembly. Students and professionals can take micro-classes from these organizations that fit into their busy schedules. In response, now every big university and college has a continuing education program — Stanford and UVA are some of the more well-known ones.
You’re not learning in a vacuum, you’re learning over the course of your life. Schools have to be really agile and adaptable now. If their students aren’t on campus, but online, that’s a major change in how educators work. You could have a 58-year-old and 18-year-old in one online class. That changes how you teach in terms of personalizing the content for each student based on their needs. If one student is falling behind, you need to personalize the curriculum.
What should universities be doing to stay on top of all of these new media/internet/platform trends?
There’s a lot of solutions targeted toward schools these days, and so they should seek to implement strict vetting processes and track the efficacy of new resources and programs by tying them to well defined and measurable KPI’s to ensure they have sound rationale for spending the limited resources they have. They want startups to have insurance. They want startup employees who handle student data to have full background checks. They only want to work with legitimate, proven vendors.
But they really do need to do that. It’s a huge issue, and most small startups can’t possibly serve a massive institution. It just requires lots of due diligence.
How do you see career advancement departments at universities changing over the next 3–5 years? And what should Career Services directors be doing to be ready for that change?
One of the biggest challenges is just that career services are so siloed. They usually don’t collaborate with campus partners well. Partnering with alumni or advancement would make a lot of sense — finding out where alumni are working, what fields they’re in, and so on. But the alumni database is so often separate, and advancement doesn’t want to keep bothering alumni by asking for money and informational sessions.
More broadly, I think career services will be embedded in more of the student lifecycle — everything from enrollment, picking classes and majors, student clubs, etc. I think that overall, there will be more alignment between career goals and academics.
What kind of results are your customers seeing?
Our clients are seeing greater engagement in career resources, earlier in their journey, which is a function of consumption of career resources and attendance at career services programs. We’re helping students leverage all of the resources on their campus to better position them to launch a career after graduation.
Students who use these resources are more career ready. We measure that by utilization of resources. We launched in 2013 Fall, Bentley was our first client and they saw a 12x increase in utilization of career resources. SNHU has seen a 3x increase for applications for internships and jobs in the first year of using our service.
The key thing to note here is that they haven’t increased the number of internships and jobs they offer, but we’re helping them make better use of the opportunities and resources they already have. Their students are better informed, more confident, and more likely to apply for the jobs the school offers.