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Want to take a look inside of the some of the innovative schools in America? The second annual EdSurge Fusion conference is designed to be your entryway.

This year’s theme— Personalized Learning for the Whole Learner—aims to help school leaders from around the U.S. see how their peers are shaping learning environments for students and educators. And far more than just listening to speakers from a stage, we're crafting time for conference attendees to meet in intimate groups with each other and with speakers to explore the issues and challenges that confront each one.

At Fusion, you will meet leading education thinkers, doers and organizations from organizations that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Digital Promise, FutureReady, LEAP Innovations, KnowledgeWorks, ISTE, EdFi and IMS Global and many others. But equally important will be the conversations and learning that you will do with practitioners—from Maine to California, Florida, Texas, Illinois and everywhere in between—who are tackling familiar challenges.

To share the science and the inspiration for building a strong social-emotional core to education we've tapped Dr. Pamela Cantor (TurnAround for Children) and Dr. Bror Saxberg and Brooke Stafford-Brizard (CZI). Phyllis Lockett, founder of LEAP Innovations will share how the science is translating into practice in Chicago.

Jonathan Raymond, former Superintendent of Sacramento and now President of the Stuart Foundation and author of Wildflowers, will explore the social-emotional underpinnings of his work in turning around Sacramento. Virgel Hammonds, now chief learning officer of KnowledgeWorks, will take us deeply into the detailed work of driving change as he helped do in Maine and in California's Lindsay Unified.

How do school leaders make personalized learning work? Listen to three leading practitioners share their approaches here.

Practitioners are at the heart of Fusion: Dr. Rosa Perez-Isiah, principal of Lucille Smith Elementary in Lawndale, Calif., and Farhat Ahmad, an alternative education teacher from Marietta, Ga., will share how they are building communities rooted in principles of equity for all learners. FutureReady's Tom Murray and Melissa Dodd from San Francisco Unified will spell out best practices for building a learning scaffold that embraces SEL as well as the physical and academic needs of learners.

Karen Cator, who leads Digital Promise will share ideas at the forefront of building a strong research base for practice. We'll unpack the complexities of how to make different technology systems work together with Dr. Rob Abel of IMS-Global and Troy Wheeler of EdFi. Lenny Schad, chief technology of Houston, will lead the conversation around how to identify what speeds up—and trips up—initiatives.

* Actionable information, presented in ways that will have immediate relevance to your school or district.Over the past seven years, our team at EdSurge has had the privilege of learning from tens of thousands of education leaders through our work as reporters, conveners and researchers. We set out to create a unique conference, with distinct “take home” results:

* Purposeful opportunities for Fusion participants to build relationships and engage in meaningful conversations with other leaders in education.

The list of speakers is growing daily. ( Take a look here.) “Working through problems with people, having a little consultancy group or advisory board—you don’t get that from other conferences,” said Steve Myrthil, formerly director of digital learning and IT at Achievement First, who attended Fusion 2017.

Growing faster is a community of powerful attendees. “I liked the spirit of working with others and having a common problem of practice. I left Fusion with clear, tangible next steps,” added Chip Chase of Capital City Public Charter School.

In the year since then, the EdSurge team has traveled around the country running events in over 50 different local communities where we talked with local educators about their successes and the challenges of implementing personalized learning. We’ve drawn from all those experiences to create Fusion 2018.

“If you want to be in the same place as a lot of heavy hitters in education and game changers, this is the place to come. Not only are those people here, but they’re available to you to sit down, to have conversations with, and really get your questions answered," said Travis Lape of the Harrisburg School District.

We’d love to include you and your colleagues in this year’s Fusion. It is a “by-invitation” event: You can nominate an educator you see as a leader in your community or request an invitation for yourself. (We do this to ensure that we have a rich mosaic of school leader practitioners.) We are also encouraging teams, so that classroom teachers can attend with an administrator.

And we're doing our best to make this an outstanding value: Through August 3, we're offering an "early bird" price of $449. (That's a $200 savings). Click here for all the Fusion details.

Join us in South San Francisco on October 2-4 for what we believe will be one of the most impactful and memorable education events of the year.

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When coding bootcamps first arrived on the (predominantly coastal) scene, they pitched themselves as alternatives to the college experience. But a series of closures have raised questions about whether these short-term skills-training programs are can be financially sustainable—or deliver results for students and investors.

Now Kenzie Academy, a tech training and apprenticeship program, wants to usher in a new era of skills training programs—and has raised a $4.2 million seed round to attempt to so.

Founded in 2017, Kenzie Academy is two-year program that currently focuses on software engineering skills, and plans to soon offer curriculum around user design and digital marketing with money from the seed round. The program costs $24,000 per year, and students can choose an income-share agreement, which allows students to delay tuition payments until they complete the program and land a job that pays at least a $40,000 salary.

Like many startup entrepreneurs, Kenzie’s CEO and co-founder Chok Leang Ooi claims he wants to do things a little differently. For starters, thesecond year of the program is an apprenticeship, where students work in Kenzie Studio, the company’s consulting arm. Part of the seed round will be used to build out that consulting arm, which will partner with tech companies for projects that students can work on to get real-world experience. And money from those companies will go towards supporting the students and Kenzie. (Partner companies have yet to be determined, according to Leang Ooi.)

Kenzie Academy “seems to be a part of the growing interest in next-gen forms of apprenticeship,” says Sean Gallagher, founder of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy. Kenzie’s business model and curriculum appears to combine trendy elements in alternative education these days, such as a focus on coding skills, work engagement and now consulting elements built-in. “That itself is a trend when various online or microcredential programs are incorporating projects with real world employers,” says Gallagher.

So far the school has attracted students from a mix of backgrounds, ranging from 19-year-olds recently out of high school, to mothers with masters degrees looking to re-skill and return to work. Leang Ooi says the company also works with and has enrolled a student through The Last Mile, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated individuals reenter the workforce.

Unlike many bootcamps or other so-called college alternatives, Kenzie also plans to partner with traditional higher-ed institutions. It has already teamed up with Butler University, which is also an investor in Kenzie Academy. As part of the partnership, students who complete Kenzie Academy’s front-end web development, full-stack web development, and software engineering programs will receive a joint certificate from Kenzie Academy and Butler Executive Education, the university business school’s continuing education arm.

While other tech-training companies like Trilogy Education have also turned to traditional universities are strategic partners, Gallagher says it’s still “somewhat rare to see that linkage from non-institutional providers and bootcamps and actually awarding a higher education credential.”

Another major focus of the training program will be to develop tech talent in cities that are not major technology hubs like New York, Austin or the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Tech jobs are concentrated on the coasts. Our goal is to provide high quality talent in the rest of America, primarily Middle America, so that other companies besides Amazon might find an attractive hub for expanding,” says Leang Ooi. “Our goal is to supply talent so [companies] don’t have to move to San Francisco.”

There’s a bit of irony in that claim, as the company is headquartered in San Francisco. (Its one campus to date, though, is in Indianapolis.) To reach even more cities, Leang Ooi says the company is also developing a digital platform to offer online and hybrid education courses for students outside of Indianapolis.

Gallagher points out that the company’s geographic focus matches other patterns he sees in technology and workplace training spaces. “Where they are located is part of the trend to develop Middle America-types of cities… By being a player in a smaller market, there may be more community support and engagement. You can imagine if this started in New York, there would be a host of competitors.”

Yet investment data analyzed by Quartz shows that Silicon Valley investment firms participated in only around 10 percent of venture deals from 2012-2018 in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

It’s too early to tell how this vision will materialize. The company just launched its first cohort in January 2018, and students will complete a year of technical training before entering an apprenticeship at the start of 2019.

Kenzie’s latest funding round was led by Rethink Education. Learn Start (a fund of Learn Capital), Gratitude Railroad, Kelly Services and Butler University also participated in the round. The seed round follows a $1.6 million seed raised in November 2017, bringing the company’s total amount raised to $5.8 million.

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Caroline Hill is a firecracker. She keynoted the Blended Learning Conference in Rhode Island and iNACOL in Florida. At both events, she asked educators to challenge their notions of the use of technology in the classrooms and their conversations around equity.

Hill has been a DC educator for years, but she is now embarking on a new venture, creating an accelerator with the goal of scaling equity. She hopes to combine the start-up mentality of the edtech world with social justice issues in a unique way.

I've been in education in DC for the past 20 years. And I’ve seen this idea of equity getting more and more momentum, but, just knowing it would take 228 [years]—it's like we're still in startup mode.
Caroline Hill

Listen to the podcast for the full interview below or on your favorite podcast app (like iTunes or Stitcher). Or read highlights from the conversation (which have been edited and condensed for clarity).

EdSurge: I got an email, and I opened it up to see that you were starting a new accelerator. And I was like, this sounds like something I've not heard before, and I was interested in having you tell our audience about what you're doing.

Hill: The new venture is called the 228 Accelerator. And the name was really conceived when I read this report called The Ever-Growing Gap, and it said the average black family would take 228 years to achieve wealth parity with white families. And for Latina families, it would be 84 years. This is just an indicator of the injustice that's experienced by the most marginalized and excluded in our communities and our society. I've been in education in DC for the past 20 years. And I’ve seen this idea of equity getting more and more momentum, but, just knowing it would take 228 [years]—it's like we're still in startup mode.

We need to think about ways to accelerate this social equity throughout our entire school system—and the way that we think and design educational experiences for students. So the whole goal of the organization is to think about how do we take our mindsets and our beliefs about equity, and then scale them so that we can accelerate our progress to a more civil and just society.

That sounds interesting. The idea of scaling equity. But on a practical level, how does that work?

My hunch is that it's our individual interactions—like our relationships with each other—that plants the seed for inequity to fester. So we can look at the relationships between students, and the relationships between teachers, and the relationships between teachers and students, and students and content. Then we need to redesign them towards the desired outcomes, codify that and then figure out how to make that into scalable nuggets—policies, practices, and models. Then we stand a chance of being able to spread more equitable institutions.

Now, of course, we have to deal with the challenge that most of our schools are segregated.

We then have to think about, if we really want a true and just society, how do we bring students across lines of racial difference [and] across lines of economic and social difference? How do we bring those communities together to then create something more powerful than what currently exists?

What's wrong with the relationships that teachers and students have now?

We have some indicators about where students are. I know that plenty of students that go to school, they get into college, but they don't finish. They don't finish college, not because they're not smart enough, they run into these oppressive themes and narratives that exist in our society about people of color. About women. About people who are sexual minorities. About people who have newly immigrated to the country. These are all narratives that are in our heads and create the conditions for our relationships. So I think it's those narratives that have to be rewritten.

And those narratives are rewritten by people in the relationships they have with each other. So that's the nugget that I want to start and let's think about how do we get people to think differently about each other? And I think schools are the capture point for that because it's the only institution that every child, or every person, is mandated to engage with for at least 16 years of their life.

How would we do that? Are we satisfied with the teacher-student relationship as it is? What if teachers and students co-created content together? What would that look like? And if that's the desired outcome, then let's plan some small tests, to see what that looks like in practice.

Does that make sense?

Yeah. I have to ask though, when you say that schools have had these oppressive narratives. For the audience, describe an example of that. What does that look like in the classroom? I don't even think people can identify these things.

I think they're invisible. So it's important to call them out. I can tell you a story of my own experience when I was a principal. When I was a principal, there was a student who clearly was excluded and marginalized throughout his entire school experience, so much so, that he became a victim of police brutality. That happened outside the school. But while he was in the school, we were forcing him to be a part of our world, instead of conforming the school experience to his.

And what that looked like for his everyday experience, was that when he didn't do what we thought was the right thing, he was excluded again, and again and again. So much so that it became, ‘school is not the place for me.’

And I think that happens a lot for students, period. And I think it has dire consequences when school was the last institution that the child is buying into because other institutions have failed them along the way. When we exclude students, when they don't follow our behavior expectations, that's a particular narrative. When we see more black boys suspended in a school or more black girls suspended in a school, that's a particular narrative.

I went to the Educated Youth Center here in our city earlier this year and noted that most of the students in that space were black boys. That follows a narrative that what we think about students of color, what we think about boys of color. I think we have to think about and figure out ways to educate and correct, without excluding. Because I think it's customary in our culture to exclude when people don't do things that we agree with.

I can see some teacher saying, ‘yes, this is something we need to do.’ But I could also hear teachers saying, how am I going to teach my class when I have disruptive kids? This sounds rosy in theory, but in practice, it's really hard.

And that's when you get to that practical application, how do we do this work. And I think educators across the entire spectrum, whether you're a principal, or district administrator or a teacher, we need time and space to think about doing things differently. We can follow the same scripts that have been passed down from our parents, and our society does not change. We're just following the script; we're following our roles. We're doing our part.

If we want to move and accelerate this pace towards a more civil and just society, we actually have to have time that allows us to critically assess and reflect on our practice, and the impact of our practice on other people. And then how do I test that in a low-stakes, low-risk environment, so that I can ease into a new practice. The headline here is we need space and time to think. And I want to create those spaces for educators to do that.

What would your first cohort of people look like? What kind of skills would they be learning?

I think first it's learning a common language and fluency around equity, diversity and inclusion. I think we have very different understandings and definitions of privilege and oppression, of racism. So first we need to establish a common language. And then learning some listening structures because that is the first step in establishing relationships. Can we listen to each other?

Once that foundation is set, moving into thinking about what are the core themes that are showing up in my practice and my school? And then how then do we create another story? So if a teacher is experiencing—or if a leader is experiencing—the exclusion of some kids and not others, then you could say, Well let's rewrite the entire discipline policy. But what we would say is, Let's get really close to the students who have been excluded, and let's find out more about their experience. Then let's work with them to figure out what will work for them.

And then over the course of five to six days, walking that educator and that design team— including the student and teachers— through a way to make things work. How do we test it with real people, but in an environment, in a context, that doesn't threaten the day to day. Let's see what we learn about that. Let's reflect on how we're changing as we're going through this process. And if we see and like the results, then let's figure out what were the moves that we made. And then we'll talk about scaling that.

What is your response to people who might think that your tone is too much for them? Or even who might say, ‘I don't know if I'm ready for all that you're saying.’

This is not a time or moment to be silent. I think that different people are in different places when it comes to finding and articulating their voices. I think there's some common ground that we can all agree on. If you asked anybody, ‘Do you want a more civil and just society?’ I can't imagine someone would say no. I hope not. But there might be.

I don't know if we have a common understanding about why we are the way we are. Why our society looks the way it does, and why do these themes keep reappearing again and again?

I've seen a lot of students, and a lot of families, who won't have a voice. So because I do have a certain amount of privilege, it's how can I use my voice? To make their worlds better, and also to make my world better.

This was just a highlight of the EdSurge OnAir podcast. To learn how Caroline Hill will judge the success of her work or how you can join the first cohort listen to the full version of this interview on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Do your school’s students submit their school assignments by uploading PDFs or other files within a learning management system? If so, a new tool from Google is looking to upend that practice—by connecting the LMS directly to Google Drive.

Called Course Kit, the new tool, announced today, lets students upload their work by tapping into their Google Drive account. Instructors can then use Drive and Google Docs to grade assignments and share course materials. As of now it integrates with many learning management systems, specifically, ones that support the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard, such as Blackboard.

This is Google’s latest update to its education product suite. In June at ISTE, the annual K-12 education technology expo, Google unveiled 12 updates to education tools, including Google Classroom. Google is not the only major tech company that has pushed updates in the education space these past few months. Last week, Microsoft launched the Surface Go, designed for kids in grades 3-5, along with new classroom management tools. In March, Apple came out with a new 9.7 inch iPad and the Apple Pencil, as well as a series of upgrades and apps that work with the new tablet.

Zach Yeskel, product manager for Google Cloud, tells EdSurge Course Kit includes two tools. The first allows instructors to embed their course materials from Google Drive directly into the LMS. The second lets instructors use Google Docs and Drive to collect assignments and give feedback within the school’s LMS.

In short, here’s how the second tool works: an instructor goes into the LMS and creates a task for students, and attaches the Course Kit assignment tool to that task. When the student logs into the LMS, he sees the option to link his Google account. He then attaches a file from his Google Drive account, and submits it. Once the student submits the task, he can’t modify the document, as the ownership of that document has transferred from him to his instructor. The instructor adds her feedback and grade, and clicks “return.” The document’s ownership returns back to the student, who can then view the comments and make modifications again.

Yeskel says the technology represents a shift from the traditional method of uploading and downloading files. The benefit of Course Kit, he believes, is that it’s one collaborative file shared between the student and professor.

“Historically the model has been that students turn in something, and instructors review it later, give feedback and return it to the student,” Yeskel says. “And that works, but sometimes students get feedback too late to matter, sometimes it’s in a different document, sometimes it’s in a different PDF or a different file.”

The move away from uploading and downloading files might be Google’s way of making its G Suite for Education, which currently has 80 million users, even more of a standard in the education space, and expanding its reach to more educators and students.

Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger at e-Literate, sees Course Kit as a move by Google to get students, specifically college students, to see Google Apps as the “default for productivity.” Many students in their late teens and 20s only use Microsoft Office when a teacher requires them to do so, he writes in an email to EdSurge. He thinks Course Kit could help lessen that use even further.

He adds that Course Kit shows Google’s acknowledgement that the K-12 market and higher ed markets are very different. He thinks this is the first time one of the big tech companies has embraced LTI standards “so openly.”

“Google Classroom is a huge focus for K-12 teachers but not for higher ed instructors, and Google needs a different strategy to deal with the surprisingly resilient LMS market,” Hill writes. “Positioning collaborative Google Docs and Drive to be easily integrated with the pervasive LMS is a clever judo move—stop fighting the LMS and instead use its momentum to their advantage.”

For Google’s part, Yeskel says the company wants a diverse set of schools to use Course Kit, including K-12 institutions.

Yeskel says the idea for Course Kit had been circulating for a long time, but he and his team only started working on it about a year ago. The company ran a pilot this past spring with more than a dozen colleges and universities. Yeskel says the way his team likes to operate is to try to get some functionalities “in the hands of customers, so that those customers can be partners in developing the feature and product.”

Course Kit is now available in beta mode in 44 languages. As part of G Suite for Education, it’s free. One caveat: instructors who want to use Course Kit need to have a school-provided G Suite for Education account. Those at higher education and K-12 institutions interested in using Course Kit can request access to the beta mode here.

In a blog post, the company notes that once a school has been “whitelisted,” an IT administrator can install Course Kit into its LMS. And for those who use Google Classroom, the company mentions that it’s working to add “new improved feedback functionality directly” to that tool, and will have more updates this fall. Yeskel says the updates to Google Classroom will include some features, but not the entirety, of Course Kit.

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From the start, access has been the defining achievement of online learning. Or so I thought.

For a couple of decades, I championed online learning for its ability to uproot entrenched ideas in education, especially by engaging students in active learning, a pedagogical style rarely practiced on campus. But I was even more taken with digital learning’s ability to let underrepresented students leap virtually over high campus gates to earn college degrees as never before.

Then came several new studies concluding that low-income students at U.S. community colleges may not be as well served online as their residential peers. One headline in The New York Times summed-up the findings: “Online Courses Fail Those Who Need Help.”

Reading initial coverage of the research, I worried that virtual access may not be accomplishing all that was it promised. Is online the educational and economic game changer I thought it was?

So I decided to take a close look at a handful of recent studies measuring online against face-to-face at U.S. community colleges. While some showed relatively poor online results, others were not that bad. As has been common since the very first large-scale studies were reported more than ten years ago, blended models—ones that mix and match face-to-face with online—emerged with the strongest outcomes.

Community colleges in the U.S. serve about 11 million students, representing 45 percent of the nation’s college population. Students enrolled in two-year, as compared with four-year schools, look very different, with about 60 percent in community colleges drawn from the bottom two rungs of the most economically disadvantaged families, while most students at four-year colleges are from the country's most financially secure ones—a widely acknowledged disparity.

If you want to learn whether online is good for the nation’s underserved population, studying the effects of virtual instruction at community colleges is a good place to start. After all, chances are students taking these courses are not as well-prepared for college as residential students at four-year colleges, and they are commonly drawn from the most economically-challenged populations.

A recent Columbia University Teachers College study at Washington State Community and Technical Colleges found that students were more likely to fail or withdraw from online courses than from face-to-face classes. The report also showed that in other outcomes, too, online students were not as strong as their residential peers. In contrast—and as was found in many studies—students were equally likely to complete a hybrid course, one that delivers both face-to-face and digital components—as to complete a face-to-face course.

“Students are more likely to graduate if they blend,” remarked Peter Shea, associate provost for online learning at the University of Albany, in a telephone interview. Shea is also editor-in-chief of the Online Learning Journal.

Another finding by the same Columbia team, measuring the Virginia Community College System, uncovered similar results—that students were more likely to fail or withdraw from online courses than from face-to-face classes and were less likely in other ways to do as well as face-to-face learners.

Just as I was most discouraged, I did find some research with a much brighter outlook. Arizona State University concluded that among those who took an online or blended course, retention rates at Houston Community College for first-time freshman was 9 to 10 percentage points higher than in face-to-face students.

Supporting Online Students

As I stepped back and wondered what to conclude, I realized that it’s worth focusing on one piece of the puzzle that can be overlooked: student services.

Student services on campus—study centers, career services, healthcare services, clubs and support for learning and other disabilities, among dozens of other benefits—are widely available on many campuses. But few colleges offer the same expansive attention to remote learners. On campus, students are coddled with high-end services, with 20 percent of higher education budgets going to student services and related costs at state schools and 30 percent at private colleges.

In contrast, virtual student support is often an afterthought. In a literature search I performed while researching this article, I found just a handful of references covering online services, with none quoting how much schools spend on them—a good sign that very little attention is paid and, distressingly, little is invested.

Some colleges hardly consider online services, especially colleges and universities just beginning to think of launching digital instruction programs. Instructional design, technology and faculty participation are investments that must be made, but my own experience bears out that online student services often don’t make the cut. In several programs with which I am familiar, online student services didn’t even make it onto the planning agenda. In one case, when it was finally identified as something that should be addressed, it took months for a special committee to be formed. Regrettably, it met only once and, alarmingly, no action was ever taken.

While remote learners commonly receive fewer services than their residential peers, surely they require more. At their best, online staff hover like helicopter parents, inquiring routinely about what’s happening in their academic and home lives—wondering, for example, why they didn’t post this week on their class forum, why they didn’t log in to take their virtual proctored exam or why they hadn’t enrolled in courses for next semester—inquiries that monitor behavior that is crucial in the long run. Commonly, faculty track academic achievement, but student services help remote students get through their stressful daily lives.

While digital courses give online students access when work and family prevent them from coming to campus, online students confront yet other obstacles—virtual alienation and technical demands for which many are unprepared.

Today, residential students work more than ever to cover steep tuition as well as life’s day-to-day needs, but digital learners don’t enroll as equals. Virtual students are under far more stress, with 70 percent of undergrads and 80 percent of graduate students working full or part time. By contrast, just 25 percent of residential students work full time.

It turns out there are things community colleges as well as the rest of higher education can do, in addition to providing enhanced digital support for remote students. Online learners deserve better—and certainly no less than their richer on-campus peers.

While residential students are often encouraged to enroll in more than two or three classes a semester to speed them through to graduation, that’s a big mistake for virtual learners. At NYU—where I was online vice dean at the engineering school for nearly a decade—we learned very quickly that remote students don’t do well taking more than two courses per semester. Work and family obligations often undermine their studies, leading to a cascade of failures and dropouts.

Making Online Learning Work

It’s in the best interest of economically distressed students that higher education make online learning work; that online students not only toss their mortarboards up in the air at graduation, but go on afterwards to lead solid, productive lives.

Getting a degree seems more urgent than ever in today’s economy—a curious American alchemy that turns a sheepskin into gold and a chance at happiness.

Comparing the lifetime potential earning power of students who graduate from high school to those who earn a bachelor’s degree, a U.S. Census Bureau report calculates that over an adult's working life, a college degree is worth nearly twice a high school diploma—or $2.1 million, compared with $1.2 million. A very cool extra million.

In addition to more money, a college degree yields dramatically meaningful social dividends for graduates—better career opportunities, greater job security, higher work satisfaction, employee benefits. And studies have shown that college completion correlates with other, more subtle psychological and personal effects—deeper self-worth, better health, and not least, greater personal satisfaction.

If virtual education fails to succeed with poor students, then it will merely replicate the severe economic imbalance that is already the shame of the nation’s campuses. Online will merely emerge as yet another luxury product for America’s privileged students.

Better to fix online for underserved students by making sure instructional design is at its best, that online students make reasonable decisions about their course load, and that higher education recognizes its obligation to provide serious, high-touch services for its remote students.

Colleges need to remain as mindful for their online students—if not more supportive—than what it offers its residential students.

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Finding the right candidate is not only important in order to get the job done but it is also essential for building a healthy company culture. So how do you find the perfect hire? A big part of that strategy is knowing where to look to find the kind of high-quality candidates you want to add to your roster. We decided to sit down with the EdSurge Job’s team to talk specifically about how to locate “hidden” edtech talent. Here are their suggestions on where to find your perfect candidate.

Hiding in plain sight

You may well be surprised by the talent you find lying directly within your reach already. In the interest of time, money, and resources, it’s always best to start by tapping into your own network first.

  • internal referrals - Happy employees often make great references. Building a quality referral program not only incentivizes your current workforce to take a personal interest in cultivating company culture, it also functions as a de facto screening system to ensure that you’re working with an internally-vetted applicant pool at all times. Of course, this need not always be a formal process; hosting social events like happy hours is a convenient way to get to know your “extended family” in a low-stakes setting.
  • edtech peers - Friends and acquaintance working in edtech, especially for companies similar to yours, can also be a great resource. To be clear, we’re not advocating poaching here; rather, we’re recommending a collective effort to share useful information, suggest contacts, or even compare recruitment strategies.
  • school districts - Consider your relationships with current or former educators and district leaders, too. These folks represent some of the best-suited potential candidates in your network. Who are some likely sector switchers in that group? Think of ways that you can help to guide their transition from the classroom to the edtech industry.

Living out loud

If your current network isn’t providing the depth or breadth you need from your candidate pool, it’s time to expand. To do this effectively, you need to let job seekers out in the world know that your company exists...AND that you’re hiring.

  • your mission - Job seekers are increasingly concerned with working for a mission-driven company. They want to know that you have a mission they can fully support and a company culture they want to be part of. It’s your job to make that clear for them.
  • your message - Building a strong brand with a consistent message is absolutely essential for effective recruitment. Create clear, mission-aligned, branded messaging that makes it easy for job seekers to know your name and identify with your brand.
  • your method - Now, put your company on the radar of all potential job seekers by distributing that message far and wide. Editorial coverage, educator reviews, funding announcements, blog posts, sponsored articles and events, listservs like Edupreneur Jobs, in addition to other marketing efforts, such as an active social media presence, should all be employed to this effect. EdSurge has lots of great options to help you get the word out.

Seeing and being seen

And while you’re broadcasting your message across the virtual landscape, don’t forget that it’s equally important to own your space in the real world.

  • jobs fairs & conferences - Your attendance should be treated as an opportunity for both branding and recruitment as well as a chance to expand your professional network. Be sure to interact with job seekers and other edtech companies. This helps you reach current applicants and build up a reserve of future resources. Check out the EdSurge Edtech Events Calendars for K12 and Higher Ed conferences. And be on the lookout for the next EdSurge jobs fairs, sign up for our Jobs focused newsletter HiredUp to be the first to hear about our upcoming dates.
  • meetups & industry events - Stay in touch with your local edtech community. Join edtech meetup groups in your area, and attend other industry events hosted by accelerators or edtech coworking spaces.
  • colleges & universities - You won’t find a greater collection of well-educated, ambitious, and optimistic talent in a single location than a post-secondary campus. Build relationships with local schools and their edtech clubs to boost your recruitment efforts. Establishing an internship program is a great way to begin the process.

Reaching new candidates

If you still haven't found the perfect candidate it is time to reach a larger audience. Finding the right jobs board to post your message is essential. You should consider the types of hires you want to make and the job description that will clearly explain why this person would be a great fit. Additionally, professional databases are overflowing with useful information regarding your next potential hire, but to take full advantage of this data, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for. To get the best results possible, be sure to begin your search with clearly defined roles and job descriptions in place. Don’t use someone else’s descriptions or signaling mechanisms if they don’t match your particular criteria. The keywords and filters you put in place to refine your searches must be correlated with success in the specific role(s) you’re looking to fill.

Industry-specific jobs boards:

Databases you might consider scouring for talent:

Staying in the loop

Keeping current on industry news (or gossip) can also be incredibly helpful. Not only is this essential for meeting the ever-changing needs of your consumer market, it also allows you to anticipate shifts in trends that will inform your recruitment strategy. Furthermore, this is one of the few ways to learn in advance about company transitions—mergers, acquisitions, pivots, shutdowns—which typically result in a brief flood of experienced talent to the job-seeker market.

Stay in the loop here:

Going rogue

The truth is, no single approach from the list above is likely to yield a great outcome for you if applied in isolation. A combined effort that includes many of the previously mentioned resources is the best way to uncover hidden edtech talent. Then again, your best employees may not come from a background in edtech or education at all. Sometimes, the talent remains hidden because you’re looking in the wrong places. In that case, you may want to consider distilling these ideas into a sort of radical “plan b” that moves in a different direction from all the advice already offered. Or consider getting in touch with the EdSurge jobs team, we’d be happy to brainstorm ideas with you!

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So far, there have been fewer home-run funding deals than last year. But for the U.S. edtech industry, that’s no big deal: In the first six months of 2018, 62 companies raised $739 million in venture capital.

This year’s first-half funding total marks a lull from the same period in 2017, which totaled $887 million spread across 58 deals. That number was fueled largely by three gargantuan deals—EverFi ($190 million), Hero K12 ($150 million) and Grammarly ($110 million)—that accounted for more than half of that total. (The full-year tally for 2017 reached $1.2 billion.)

By contrast, just one U.S. edtech company has hit the nine-figure mark in 2018: a $110 million round for Connexeo, a provider of administrative payment software for schools and community institutions. The next biggest fundraise is a $55 million round for CampusLogic, a college financial aid platform. That’s followed by a trio of companies: tutoring marketplace Varsity Tutors, student loan service Commonbond and bootcamp provider Trilogy Education, which each raised $50 million.

Rounding out the list are a mix of K-12 and higher-ed tools, along with consumer-facing and employment-oriented services. There are newly-funded curriculum and courseware services, games, adaptive learning platforms and study tools. As investment opportunities go, “we’re seeing a pretty even distribution between K-12 and higher-ed” deals, says Michelle Dervan, a principal at Rethink Education.

But the more lucrative deals have focused on higher-ed and workforce training. “We’re seeing a lot more activity and innovation in the workforce training space, especially the nexus between higher-ed and employment,” Dervan adds. In particular, these companies are “tapping into the big stress points in society,” particularly around student debt, automation and the fear of losing jobs to automation.

Learning is no longer viewed as an afterthought in the workforce.
Deborah Quazzo, managing partner at GSV AcceleraTE

That’s an observation shared by Deborah Quazzo, managing partner at GSV AcceleraTE: “Learning is no longer viewed as an afterthought in the workforce.” Company leaders want to find, retain and nurture talent. Front-line workers are increasingly wary of job obsolescence. These two factors have spurred investment in workforce-learning efforts, she observes. “For CEOs, learning has moved up in the hierarchy of company priorities.”

Greater Expectations

Across all technology sectors, the amount of funding raised in seed rounds are growing, in part because the bar for raising Series A rounds are higher. “For fundraising, seed is no longer a round, it’s a phase,” wrote Hunter Walk, a partner at Homebrew, a San Francisco-based investment firm. “Seed A investors are increasingly looking for de-risked companies and willing to pay for more momentum.”

Over the past five years, seed rounds for edtech startups have been growing in size. In 2014, the average seed round was less than $1 million. So far this year, that figure has grown to $2.4 million.

Investors are looking for earlier signs of a viable revenue model, and recognize that it may take startups longer to find one. Sometimes, 18 months—the typical timeframe (or “runway”) in which a seed-stage company is expected to hit performance targets for raising a Series A—is not enough. The past few years have seen more companies raising “bridge” and “seed extension” funding before trying for a Series A.

With revenue a focus for early-stage funders, some have become wary of the freemium business model, which prioritizes getting as many users as possible in lieu of generating money. “There are more investors who’ve become jaded with freemium plays that have not come into fruition over the last couple of years,” according to Dervan. (But it’s worth noting that the door hasn’t completely closed, as evidenced by Kiddom’s $15 million Series A fundraise.)

High-Profile Exits

There have been at least 30 U.S. edtech acquisitions so far in 2018. To investors like Quazzo, that’s a sign that education is no longer a “stepchild” of the technology industry. Coupled with Pluralsight’s IPO (the first for a U.S. edtech company since Instructure went public in 2015), “exit activities have been incredibly robust,” she says.

Among the biggest acquisitions is that of General Assembly, the New York-based provider of short-term training programs, which was sold for $412.5 million to Adecco, a Swiss human resources firm.

Private equity continues to be on the hunt for education assets. Last year saw several private equity firms make splashy entrances in the education industry, including BV Investment Partner putting $150 million in Hero K12 to acquire other education companies, and The Rise Fund’s $190 million investment in EverFi.

This year, Francisco Partners emerged as a player through acquiring two big names in K-12 education. In February, it agreed to fork out $120 million for Discovery Education, a provider of print and digital textbooks and curriculum (and formerly owned by its parent, Discovery Communications, best known for its television programs). Then in May, Francisco bought Renaissance Learning, an assessment developer, from its previous private-equity owner Hellman & Friedman (which paid $1.1 billion for Renaissance in 2014).

Some of these companies are more of a product than a company, so it makes sense for them to find a parent and become part of a bigger platform.
Michelle Dervan, principal at Rethink Education

In Dervan’s eyes, private equity’s interest in K-12 will lead to a long-awaited consolidation of the industry, which over the years has become littered with piecemeal products and services. “This space is very fragmented,” notes Dervan. “Some of these companies are more of a product than a company, so it makes sense for them to find a parent and become part of a bigger platform.”

“K-12 has always been viewed as a weaker part of the market” in terms of companies that can deliver on revenue, says Quazzo. Now that’s no longer the impression. The interest from private-equity acquirers (who really focus on the bottom line) suggests “there are real companies being built with real returns and results,” she claims.

Yet even those with questionable financials (but big user bases) have managed to find an out. Case in point: Edmodo, the social-learning platform developer, was sold to NetDragon, a Chinese company, for $15 million in cash and roughly $122 million in stock. That’s a generous sum for a company that had raised close to $100 million in funding but generated just $1 million in revenue in 2017.

Here Comes China

Chinese education companies continue to flex their financial muscles in this industry. Earlier this year, NetDragon also purchased math tool Sokikom. And in recent years, it also acquired JumpStart (makers of Math Blaster) and Promethean (best known for its interactive whiteboards).

These deals reflect a voracious appetite for edtech among Chinese companies, as evidenced through gargantuan fundraises and their increasing presence in edtech conferences across the globe. According to JMDedu, which covers the Chinese education industry, Chinese edtech firms raised $2.2 billion across 270 deals in the first half of 2018.

Chinese deal sizes are staggering—particularly for K-12 and tutoring services. (A running joke is to add a zero to the end of the dollar amount that a comparable U.S. edtech company would raise.) VIPKID, a Chinese company that connects English learners with native-speaking tutors, raised $500 million in its Series D round. (Recall that Varsity Tutors raised $50 million this year.)

Don’t be surprised to see them continue to eye U.S. assets. (Already they’re snapping up cash-strapped U.S. universities.) Last year, New Oriental, a firm publicly listed in the U.S., reportedly set aside $1.8 billion to acquire education acquisitions across the world. ATA Inc., another company also listed on the U.S. stock market, has similar ambitions. And so does TAL Education, which has invested in U.S. edtech companies and venture capital funds as a limited partner. (The company’s financial performance, however, has been questioned.)

“With those kinds of funding and the speed with which they have scaled,” notes Dervan, “China is set to dominate the consumer-facing edtech space for years to come.”

Source: JMDedu
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At the end of next school year, thousands of high school students will sit down at individual workstations, laptops in hand, for an end-of-course exam. But in a rather novel twist this one’s not just about what you know—but also what you can figure out.

That’s the idea at least behind the latest summative assessments from Project Lead the Way, a project-based STEM curriculum, which is introducing new tech-based question types to measure a raft of noncognitive skills from collaboration to general problem solving (in addition to subject-specific questions about engineering or coding concepts).

“We reflected and determined we had an opportunity to change the way we assess students to look and feel more like the in-classroom experience,” says Michelle Gough, a senior vice president for Project Lead the Way and its chief legal and assessment officer.

Is it important to measure those skills? The answer is yes, and they can be measured. Can you measure them with a single kid sitting in front of a computer? I think there’s more of a question about that.
Linda Darling-Hammond

Project Lead the Way, or PLTW as it’s known for short, is a K-12 STEM curriculum that’s big on hands-on learning and having groups of students co-design solutions to science and engineering problems. Challenges might include designing apparel for extreme climates or improving water recycling during a drought.

For much of its two-decade history, the Indianapolis-based nonprofit has offered end-of-course assessments for its three “pathway” courses on engineering, computer science or biomedical sciences. But those had traditionally focused on subject-specific skills, and were entirely multiple choice. The new soft-skill component, given online, will be taken by up to 400,000 K-12 students in more than 10,000 schools at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Testing for such skills relies heavily on technology and required a significant retooling. Yet questions remain about whether any individual test (especially one that has long relied on multiple choice) can truly measure collaboration and problem solving—skills that typically involve heavy doses of human interaction and teamwork.

A Question on Testing

When building the new tests, PLTW gathered panels of industry experts, educators and psychometricians, or scientists who study how to make tests fair. Their goal? To infuse both real-world scenarios and academic standards into the new exams, as well as topics like leadership that college admissions reps would care about.

To bolster its claim that there needs to be more measurement around soft skills, PLTW pointed EdSurge to a 2014 research brief co-authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, an emeritus professor at Stanford and longtime policy researcher, which calls for adding more collaboration, communication and problem-solving to both curricula and accountability systems.

But the individual computerized assessments PLTW has built aren’t exactly what Darling-Hammond had in mind. “Is it important to measure those skills? The answer is yes, and they can be measured,” says Darling-Hammond, who now heads up the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute, in an interview with EdSurge. “Can you measure them with a single kid sitting in front of a computer? I think there’s more of a question about that.”

In place of individual tests, Darling-Hammond is a proponent of what’s known as performance assessments, which measure skills through hands-on tasks—the kind PLTW features in its curriculum but not its assessments.

Some countries, such as Singapore and parts of Australia, use performance assessments as alternatives or complements to high-stakes testing. Typically they involve giving students a task to complete around designing an investigation or solving a problem. (Several U.S. states like New York and Kentucky feature them too). In some cases they’re collaborative, asking groups of students to test and present their solution together and write up their findings and contributions separately.

“There is real work on real problems, which are going to be much more transferable to the real-world situations that we want kids to be prepared for,” Darling-Hammond says.

Such approaches take training, resources and time, in addition to buy-in from districts, states and educators. But Gough maintains that group work isn’t ideal for individual assessments. Even if answers are recorded individually, she says, it’s too difficult to discern whether students contributed equally or if skill levels within the group are even comparable (which would “muddy the data,” she adds).

Technology-Enhanced

What’s easier to agree on is that multiple-choice questions are a poor way to measure soft skills. Darling-Hammond says the format is rarely used outside the U.S, where it’s unusually popular. “In scoring a multiple-choice test, just about every dollar after the first is profit for the commercial testing company,” she says, “whereas scoring a test where you've got open-ended answers requires that you train teachers to do scoring.”

There often isn’t a completely right or completely wrong answer—there is usually a best answer
Michelle Gough

For the new tests PLTW didn’t ditch multiple choice entirely, but rather added what it calls “technology-enhanced items,” which began cropping up a few years ago on national and international high-stakes assessments, including PISA and Smarter Balanced. This new breed of tech-laden items lets students answer questions through drag and drop, highlighting text or fill-in-the-blanks.

The PLTW tests also include situational-judgement items or hypothetical scenarios where students have to weigh options and come to decisions after reading a passage or watching a video vignette (e.g. “You are conducting an experiment and you realize your data has been corrupted…”). Developed by psychologists to test skills like leadership, they often feature multiple choice-like lists or the ability to rank options in order from, say, the most to least appropriate response. Depending on their answers, there is typically an opportunity for students to pick up at least partial credit on the PLTW tests, Gough says, “because there often isn’t a completely right or completely wrong answer—there is usually a best answer.”

Still, they may suffer from the same limitations that make typical multiple choice items problematic. “You can always eliminate the stupid answers,” Darling-Hammond says of situational-judgement items. “You could know the right answer without being a good collaborator in any sense yourself.”

AI Steps In

Barring actual student-to-student interaction, a better way to gauge soft skills is to simulate collaboration as closely as possible. In 2015, for the first time the PISA exam—given to 15-year-olds around the world—sought to measure individual and collaborative problem solving. It also introduced an AI-powered avatar that students interact with to complete a particular task, such as flying a rocket to the moon when you only control one aspect of the project (and thus must work closely with the AI).

“The idea was to see to what extent students would collaborate without an identified solution strategy, and to what extent they can overcome problems and difficulties,” says Andreas Schleicher, a director at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which oversees PISA. “None of the problems we gave students required a lot of content knowledge or problem-solving expertise. It was all about the willingness and capacity of students to jointly manage problem situations.”

As part of its broad research into test design, PLTW presented the PISA approach to its panel and ended up adopting a similar AI scenario—a “simulated interaction,” Gough calls it—on the end-of-course exam for biomedical science students, who will interact with a virtual patient. It’s an approach not without its problems, Darling-Hammond says. But, she adds, it’s “a step in the right direction, and it's certainly a big step beyond multiple-choice testing.”

Setting Up for Success

Three years after giving its own collaboration-themed test to U.S. students, Schleicher says American students came off rather average when it came to those skill sets, placing 13th out of more than 50 countries.

“If you rank American students internationally in collaborative problem solving they don’t come off that well,” he says, before adding that it’s important to look at the bigger picture. “Americans did better on collaborative than they did on individual problem solving.”

But those taking PISA tests come from a broad range of schools, whereas those taking the new PLTW exams will have just completed a project-based learning curriculum focused not only on STEM but also on preparing them for real-world collaboration experiences. PLTW students therefore might be expected to score better on soft skill tests and thus look more attractive to their post-secondary prospects.

“We have a lot of research about how students who do PLTW are the students that are completing college, not changing majors,” Gough says. “It isn’t just the development of subject-matter skills, it's the implication of these transportable skills—the perseverance, problem solving...that has allowed them to be successful.”

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In his latest EdSurge column, Michael Horn laid out how Google Maps offers an aspirational metaphor for what the future of educational tools could look like. But as he also noted, locating where people are geographically is one thing; pinpointing where they are educationally is another.

Today, Google Maps is an open ecosystem for accurate, real-time geospatial and navigation data. Unfortunately, current learner navigation systems more closely resemble the early, self-contained GPS devices with incomplete and inaccurate maps.

To bridge the gulf, it will take a similar open-data ecosystem to support learner navigation. But in the field of education, we don’t even have a complete set of static competency frameworks for digital data that are openly accessible and interoperable—to say nothing of dynamic data that support real-time pathway optimization.

Yet there are several initiatives, some of which I’ve had the privilege of working on, that aim to support the educational data ecosystem necessary for learner navigation.

Alignment of Data Standards for Describing Learning Objectives

When applying the Google Maps metaphor to learner navigation, the points of interest on the map are competencies—the things that a person can learn, such as skills, knowledge, dispositions, and habits of practice. This data must be in a machine-readable format and interoperable to work in all apps and systems.

The existing standards for this kind of data were like a Babylon of different languages, understood only in their own domain (such as medical training, human resources, K-12 or postsecondary). To connect these standards, there are efforts such as the Credential Ecosystem Mapping Project, where participants are working together to understand how data elements within various standard formats can be converted to other formats. This project maps across existing data standards, making it possible to translate data at all levels and sectors of education and training, such as the MedBiquitous standards for health care and HROpen for human resources.

The IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) plans to update its existing standards based on this work. Last updated in 2007, the international standards body has defined a data model for describing, referencing, and sharing competency definitions, primarily in the context of online and distributed learning. The LTSC is also working on related standards for mobile learning platforms, adaptive instructional systems and augmented reality learning environments.

Open Registry of K-12 Learning Standards

State academic standards help define the learning objectives for U.S. K-12 learners. These standards have been traditionally published only as human-readable documents, such as PDFs, that can’t be used directly by education technology tools. In other words, statements within PDF documents cannot be reliably referenced in information systems and digital content.

Something is usually lost in translation when content publishers and software developers try to put state standards into their own databases. Also, mapping is problematic with 50 sets of state standards for each grade level and subject, plus many more derived versions of those standards used locally and for other specific purposes.

In an effort to solve this problem, IMS Global recently announced it will host a 50-state registry of academic standards. This registry aims to provide a definitive set of machine-readable statements and a freely available set of global identifiers for use in digital content. If it achieves that goal, it will also support crosswalks for systems to discover whether one state’s standard is an exact match to a standard from another state. Equally important, it will allow states themselves to maintain the digital and human-readable standards so that nothing is lost in translation.

Linked Data Defining Competencies and Credential Pathways

Data about credentials that are available for a person to earn are just as valuable as data about the things a person must learn to get them. To this end, the Credential Registry, hosted by nonprofit Credential Engine, has created an open catalog of data about postsecondary degrees and other credentials available in the United States.

Dozens of credentialing institutions and quality assurance bodies are already posting information on the registry, which includes different kinds of credentials, from degrees, certificates and certifications to licenses, badges, and micro-credentials. Credentials in the registry include linked data for the competencies that each credential represents.

Today, micro-credentials (sometimes issued as digital badges) and micro-master’s degrees have emerged as a more dynamic model for credentialing than the traditional 2- or 4-year degree, offering an alternative reflecting the ever-changing world we live in. Digital micro-credentials, such as those offered by Digital Promise for educators, provide recognition for the skills people learn throughout their careers.

Pathways data can help people navigate opportunities to earn “stackable” credentials, or a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time to build up an individual’s qualifications for a different and potentially higher-paying job. (See this explanation of stackable credentials from the U.S. Department of Labor.) These more flexible pathways could also be used in K-12 education, such as a student earning a micro-credential as a step toward licensure in a trade.

Translation Competency Definitions Between Data Formats

Organizations in different domains use different formats for the same kind of data. For example, a K-12 state education agency could use tools based on the CEDS and IMS CASE data standards for academic standards. In the same state there may be a district with a career and technical-education program in health science and medical technology, but the medical industry uses the Medbiquitous standard to encode competency definitions.

To address this issue, the CASS system, developed by Eduworks with funding from Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, is being used with the Credential Registry as a translator to move competency framework data between different serialization formats of technical standards. That could allow for better alignment between a university’s digital competency frameworks, and what is used by the profession or industry that a student will enter.

Linked Data on the Web

Billions are spent developing digital educational content and trying to develop systems to better recommend what digital content a student should experience next. To date, defining where digital content belongs on a learning map has only happened in closed systems with very limited maps of learning progressions. With openly available learning map data, links to those data can give digital content a point of reference. This is as simple as providing URLs that “locate” at what learning milestones the digital content may be used.

As the learning map references become available on the open web, dynamic learning content will also be able to link to specific activities and assessments. Technology standards such as Experience API (xAPI) and IMS Caliper link specific learner experiences to points on the learner navigation map and add useful contextual data. This is similar to how up-to-the-minute traffic data helps Google Maps find the fastest routes.

Aligning Learning, Workforce, and Credentialing Data with the Needs of the New Economy

It’s often discussed that there is a mismatch between the skills secondary students are acquiring and those needed for post-secondary coursework, as well as a mismatch between the skills needed for current jobs and the skills that college graduates have. One of the challenges is to build a learner navigation map that has coherent pathways between K-12 academic standards, postsecondary programs, and occupational competencies.

The T3 Innovation Network, funded by the Lumina Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, is investigating, among other things, whether artificial intelligence algorithms and resources can be used to discover information used in learner navigation. For example, they are studying how to turn unstructured information about job skills on the web into structured data that conform to data interoperability standards and can link to learning opportunities and credentials. This can add value to existing information sources like the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET career exploration and job analysis resource, by linking information about job skills and the education credentials that best represent those skills.

More to Be Done

Beyond these initiatives, an open ecosystem for learner navigation will need additional research-driven data, such as data about contexts and conditions in which learning takes place, available learning experiences, how to measure mastery levels, the cognitive and metacognitive gaps and barriers that learners face, and which kinds of practice or experiences can lead past those barriers to mastery.

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For many of today’s students, the biggest obstacles to finishing college are logistical and emotional, not academic.

According to a new survey released by Civitas Learning in partnership with the Center for Generational Kinetics, students view the top challenges to completing their degrees are anxiety (35 percent of respondents) and time management (36 percent of respondents). Other factors included working too many hours (24 percent of respondents) and feeling overwhelmed with managing responsibilities (31 percent of respondents).

The survey was administered to 1,545 U.S. undergraduate college students ages 18 and older who are currently enrolled in a 2-year or 4-year institution.

Mark Milliron, the co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning, tells EdSurge he was surprised to learn that almost a quarter of respondents believed it would be difficult for them to finish their studies.

“Of course academics are an issue,” he adds. But students felt that bigger factors boiled down to questions of “how can they manage work and school, how can they make their schedules work, all those kind of things.”

In some ways, Milliron says, the survey was a “continuing wakeup call” that so-called “traditional” students between the ages of 18 to 20 no longer dominate the higher-education landscape.

“We have a lot of students with very complicated lives, and they have broader issues,” Milliron says. “Trying to design the right kind of advising support is going to mean a level of diversification and a level of personalization.”

Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit focused on community college student success, says the survey affirms the importance of providing personalized support for students.

The survey also had insights about advising. In terms of what kind of advising students would like to receive, the topics that ranked the highest were career options after graduation (40 percent), staying on track with finishing a degree (40 percent), time management (33 percent), academic success strategies (33 percent) and work-life balance (31 percent).

Stout says that another factor the survey highlights for her was the importance of meaningful relationships and interactions between students and faculty, as well as students and advisors. The goal, she says, is to make sure those interactions are “more developmental in nature, rather than transactional.” She believes there should be conversations that help students learn how their aspirations, interests and passions can translate into a “meaningful degree pathway that will lead to some type of credential that leads to a living wage and a career that has meaning and purpose.”

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