Hey everyone - Dez here from All Things Venture. Today, we’re going to talk about education. I don’t have a witty introduction or quote to share, so I’ll share some of my personal experience. Education, for me, is a foundational element of my life. Simply put, I would not be in the position I am today without education. It was a priority in my household, and my parent’s viewed education as a lifelong investment for their children. Largely, that investment has paid off. However, the opportunity and investment I was lucky enough to receive - is not evenly distributed. I’ve been recently thinking about what the purpose of education, specifically higher education is:
Is it to provide the broadest amount of people with a quality eduction and to spur innovation and creative thought that advances society?
Is it to provide (relatively) narrow swaths of people with exemplary education and opportunity that benefits them at an individual level?
My questions are deliberately broad/provocative, but I think the easiest way to think about it is this: Would our country be better off, if everyone who had the ability to succeed at Harvard, were able to receive an education from Harvard? Truthfully, I don’t know. My gut feeling says yes, but I also recognize that it would be functionally impossible for Harvard to educate all the applicants that could succeed at the school. That being said, if Harvard’s acceptance rate went from 4.0% of accepted students in 2021 to 5.0% in 2022, which would be an increase of ~500 students, I think that the school has the capabilities and resources to educate those additional students. The unknown obviously is, what additional benefit does society gain from those 500 additional students gaining a Harvard education? When we live in a society that is increasingly polarized, and increasingly segmented by the haves and the have nots - I wonder what path we’re headed down if there is no structural change within our educational system. Lucky enough for me, I know a guy working on that structural change. His name is Charlie Anastasi, and he’s the Head of Growth at Rize Education. Charlie is a jack of all trades - he played basketball at Harvard, and started his career at Blackstone. Charlie actually hired me to join Cadre back in 2019, and it was at Cadre where I was able to learn about Charlie’s passion for education. If there’s anyone equipped to take on of structural change for higher education, my bet is that Charlie and the rest of the team at Rize are the right people to do it. With that all being said, let’s dive right in.
All Things Venture: What is Rize Education?
Rize Education helps colleges and universities start enrollment-driving majors and minors that provide new pathways to employment in high-demand fields for students.
All Things Venture: What led you to build Rize Education?
I can’t take credit for being a co-founder of Rize but I can shed some light on what got me so excited to join as an early employee. As I learned more about higher education in the US a few things stood out to me:
Students are not being effectively served by the current 4-year higher education system with two key issues: (i) cost and (ii) lack of preparation for the workforce. Student debt grew 70% over the last ten years to $1.7tn dollars and 50% of recent graduates did not even apply to entry-level jobs because they felt under-qualified
Meanwhile, colleges and universities need to adjust their business model in order to be more financially sustainable. Enrollment has been declining at 4-year institutions and colleges cannot keep passing along growing costs to debt-burdened students and families. The rate of college closings and mergers has increased meaningfully over the last 5-years and many expect this rate to accelerate over the next decade.
Taken together, there seemed to be a unique opportunity to leverage online learning as a means of better serving students with new pathways to high-demand occupations at a reduced cost, while also allowing institutions to grow their enrollment without adding commensurate cost to their strained budgets.
All Things Venture: Who do you believe Rize Education is best positioned for?
Rize Education is currently best positioned to serve smaller colleges that offer amazing student support and community, but do not have the financial resources to continuously create new majors and minors that lead to great jobs.
Starting a new major can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and years to develop, which also creates an immense amount of risk if a new program does not attract meaningful enrollment. By partnering with Rize, smaller colleges can expand their academic portfolio while still delivering on the hallmarks of a small college experience that provides critical support to students.
All Things Venture: What are some of the challenges that you face at the current stage for Rize Education?
Two of the challenges I would highlight in particular are distribution and successful implementation of the product.
From a distribution perspective, as with many startups, growing a brand early on can be challenging, especially in a very risk-averse industry. We’ve been fortunate to attract a strong cohort of early adopters, but there is still a huge untapped segment of the market that we believe could greatly benefit from our model.
As it relates to implementation, colleges and universities are large, highly interdependent organizations and the success of launching a new academic program incorporates a range of key stakeholders, from faculty to admissions to finance and operations. As we grow, our team is focused on delivering scalable solutions that will allow colleges to more seamlessly integrate new academic programs onto their campuses.
All Things Venture: What defines success for Rize Education over the next few months?
Two key priorities for Rize over the next few months include:
Improving courses being offered through the Rize platform to ensure students continue to review courses favorably. While our main customers are the colleges we are working with, it is critical that our end user, the student, is finding rewarding experiences in our courses. Without student satisfaction, we won’t be able to deliver on our goals for colleges.
Growing our lead generation funnel such that we are working with over 100 colleges by the end of the year.
All Things Venture: What advice do you have for any aspiring entrepreneur?
Hard to not come off too cliche here, but focus and prioritization are such critical elements of a startup early on. Hopefully you feel that the opportunity set in front of you is massive, but with limited resources, it is likely impossible to pursue every great idea. Being able to focus your team, capital and time on the highest impact initiatives rather than pursue everything simultaneously is a huge differentiator early on.
All Things Venture: What is your wildly ambitious vision for Rize Education?
Ultimately, our mission is to provide a fun, riskless pathway to fulfilling employment for every student. In order to get there, my vision for Rize would be that we are not only helping colleges and universities educate millions of students each year, but that we are able to help those institutions thrive by reducing cost and improving student employment outcomes.
That’s it for this week everyone. I hope you all enjoyed. For all of our subscribers, we’d love to get your opinion on our original question, would our country be better off, if everyone who had the ability to succeed at Harvard, were able to receive an education from Harvard?
Let us know what you think in the comments, or shoot me a not directly at email@example.com. Cheers everyone!