From recession’s wake, education innovation blooms

Public officials, desperate to cut costs and measure results, are open to change in education.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On a warm spring evening, hundreds of investment bankers, venture capitalists and geeky tech entrepreneurs gathered near the pool at the Phoenician, a luxury resort outside Phoenix, for a high-profile gathering of education innovators.

As guests sipped cocktails and nibbled hors d’oeuvres, the mood was upbeat.

And why not? Major innovations – forged by the struggles of the Great Recession and fostered by technology – are coming to higher education.

Investment dollars are flooding in – a record-smashing 168 venture capital deals in the United States alone last year, according to conference host GSV Advisors. The computing power of “the cloud” and “big data” are unleashing new software. Public officials, desperate to cut costs and measure results, are open to change.

And everyone, it seems, is talking about MOOCs, the massive open online courses offered by elite universities and attracting millions of enrollees worldwide.

As with so many innovations, the technology is bubbling up mostly from the United States, fueled by American capital chasing profitable solutions to American problems. But as with those past innovations, the impact will be worldwide – in this case, perhaps even more powerfully in developing countries where mass higher education is new.

Global demand is surging. And college tuition dollars – including, in the United States, $200 billion annually in federal student financial aid – follow the students where they choose to enroll, making the market more competitive and open to innovation.

See Page 2 for details on how education is becoming “unbundled.”

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