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Speed dating for Edtech: highlights from the 2017 ASU + GSV Summit

By Steve Fireng

Keypath CEO Steve Fireng shares 5 important higher ed themes that came out of this year’s conference.

Over time the ASU + GSV Summit has evolved from a conference for Edtech start-ups to a meeting place for the top minds and innovators in higher education to engage and exchange ideas for the future.

I find real value in (re)connecting with past and present colleagues and meeting new leaders and companies throughout the EDU space. I had 14 meetings in one day with various Edtech companies … that’s what I call speed dating! It was energizing and exciting to hear about trends in education and of course a lot of political talk with the new administration and Secretary of Education. 

I want to share five themes that came out of the conference:

1. Mixed views on EDU outlook and  the role of regulation

With our current political landscape it’s no surprise that the outlook for the education space is mixed. Every conversation started with the Purdue/Kaplan deal, then steered to education policy. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was a keynote at the event and spoke about technology’s important role in expanding access to education. Overall, I’d say the reaction to her session was 60% optimistic about education progress and outlook - mostly because there is a hope/belief that regulations that have killed many schools will be loosened up over time. 

2. New ways to fund education

Over the past couple years, companies have sprouted up that offer alternative ways for students to fund their education - from income share agreements (committing to paying back loans based on a percentage of  actual earnings), to working at nonprofits to pay off debt, to schools partnering with companies to have alternative ways to save the student money. It remains to be seen if this will solve the macro issue that tuition rates remain high, but it is encouraging to see new options allowing students to finance a degree, and to observe schools mapping the cost of the education to professional outcomes. 

3. Blurring lines between nonprofit and for-profit education

Whether it is the Kaplan/Purdue deal or OPM companies supporting universities with online education there seems to be a merging of nonprofit and for-profit entities. Ultimately, I believe this will benefit students in the long-term. They will have more education options and will benefit from the best of both worlds – the credibility of a traditional nonprofit degree, coupled with the innovative learning experiences for-profits offer. 

4. Focus on workforce and micro-credentials

To get a degree or get training? Is one better than the other? I met many companies that are offering alternative ways for students to get skills training connected to employability. Many of these micro-credentials are stacked on top of bachelor’s degrees. While I really like this idea, I don’t think it replaces the degree path for those wanting to move into leadership roles. I do anticipate there to be continued work and discussion around continuing education for the workforce, resulting in better outcomes all around.

5. Inspiring innovation

The conference brought together a diverse group of people in education – entrepreneurs, educators, business leaders, philanthropists, university leaders, etc. There was great energy while all these people worked to solve challenges, create partnerships, explore opportunities and discuss innovative products and solutions. It’s clear there is an enormous amount of investment going into Edtech companies to support the need for innovation.

It was a great conference and it’s exciting and inspiring to be a part of shaping the future of education.

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