Today the University of Maryland University Campus (UMUC) announced its plans to spin off their Office of Analytics into a separate for-profit ed tech company.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents today approved a University of Maryland University College (UMUC) plan to spin off its Office of Analytics into a new company, HelioCampus, that will provide business intelligence products and services to universities nationwide. [snip]
The new company will provide a foundational analytics platform and data analysis services. This comprehensive offering will include all the tools needed to support or jumpstart an analytics program. HelioCampus will host a secure platform in the cloud that will include flexible data models and best-in-class visual analytics to accelerate analysis.
The technology will be complemented by a team of higher-education and business-intelligence experts. Each institution will be assigned a dedicated analyst that will partner with key stakeholders to interpret the data and highlight key trends.
The Chronicle quotes two UMUC execs - CIO Pete Young (staying at UMUC) and VP for Analytics Darren Catalano (leaving UMUC to become HelioCampus' chief executive). It is worth noting, as Stephen deFilipo did on Twitter, that both Pete Young and Darren Catalano come from Rosetta Stone.
“The market as it currently stands has some very traditional software tools,” said Peter C. Young, UMUC’s senior vice president for analytics, planning, and technology. “You buy software licenses, you pay for very expensive implementation. Fundamentally, you’re doing your own thing.” [snip]
“We know what data is valuable and what data is not,” said Darren Catalano, UMUC’s vice president for analytics. Most colleges aren’t using their data effectively, he said, and the ability to understand your own data “is no longer optional in higher education.”
This story, however, is important beyond just UMUC and HelioCampus, as it is part of a growing trend for universities to act as ed tech startup. This can be done either with a for-profit spinoff company or with an internal incubator.
SNHU and Motivis Learning
SNHU, the university best known for its College for America competency-based education (CBE) program, spun off its learning platform into a separate company. As reported by Inside Higher Ed in September 2014:
Southern New Hampshire University, seeing an opening in the market for a learning management system designed around competency-based education, is spinning off the custom-made system it built to support College for America.
Before College for America launched in January 2013, the university considered building a platform to support the competency-based education subsidiary on top of the learning management system used on campus, Blackboard Learn. The university instead picked Canvas, created by Instructure, but after only a couple of months, “we decided we needed to build our own,” said Paul J. LeBlanc, president of the university. [snip]
On Oct. 1, one year after the system went live at College for America, the university is spinning it off as Motivis Learning and writing the for-profit subsidiary a $7 million check. In its first phase, LeBlanc said, the company will further develop its platform based on how other institutions are approaching competency-based learning.
University of Texas and UTx / TEx
The University of Texas System and its Institute for Transformational Learning (ITL), with a $50 million kickstart in 2012, created UTx.edu as an office leading a series of ed tech initiatives. One of UTx's signature initiatives is a "next-generation educational ecosystem" called TEx that supports the U Texas CBE programs. From Inside Higher Ed in November 2014:
The institute is building its own competency-based platform, but is drawing pieces from several vendors to put it together.
Marni Baker Stein, the institute’s chief innovation officer, described a “stack” of elements, dubbed TEx, for Total Educational Experience. TEx will include customer relationship software, adaptive technology, a “cross-contextual” user interface and mobile technology. RealizeIt from CCKF, Big Tomorrow and Robots and Pencils are some of the firms the system has tapped.
CSU Global Campus
Like UMUC, Colorado State University System's online arm - the Global Campus - is also in the middle of creating a spin-off for-profit company partially based on analytics. They have not made public the selected name of the venture, so their internal documents list it as "NewCo". The February 2015 board of governors' meeting described the goals.
President Takeda-Tinker explained the concept of NewCo as a tech transfer entity to leverage CSU- Global Campus’ expertise to serve market needs. Services would be offered to other educational institutions and business sectors, and would include consulting, technology licenses, and outsource services. NewCo would benefit the CSU System and CSU-Global Campus in multiple ways in planning for future financial viability. The suggestion was made to provide examples of Colorado tech transfer entities in the business plan.
From what I can read in the subsequent meeting notes, CSU has approved the creation of the entity, selected (but not made public) the name, and are currently setting it up as legal entity owned by the CSU Foundation. The key elements of technology are portals (faculty, staff, and student) as well as faculty management system. This last one is interesting, based on systems to verify how much time instructors actually spend on each course, what their level of interaction is with students, and other monitoring software that can be controversial outside of large online programs.
There are more details in this slide presentation that was part of the December 2014 meeting.
More to Come
Are these efforts paving the way for universities who know their own business to create profitable ed tech and services offerings based on unique insights into how schools really work, or are they vehicles for star-struck administrators seeing glory and easy revenues? Or both? Only time will tell, but I would expect to see more announcements of a similar nature over the next year or two. Watch for more coverage here.