The Valley’s educational technology (ed-tech) scene has been growing critical mass for decades and odds are it’s not going to stop anytime soon.
John Sperling was ahead of the curve in 1976 when he founded for-profit University of Phoenix with the mission to educate working adults. In 1989, the university launched its online program, which grew to be the largest student body in North America in 1997, according to the school.
U.S. News & World Report recently named Arizona State University the country’s “most innovative school.” It beat out Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which ranked second and third, respectively. In 2014, ASU unveiled the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a partnership with the coffee company and coffeehouse chain that offers full tuition reimbursement to Starbucks employees who pursue an online degree through ASU. And last year, ASU debuted its Global Freshman Academy, in which students can take online classes and decide after completion whether they want to pay for the credits, which are offered at a rate of $200 per hour.
Yuma-based Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School has used technology to upend the way students are taught, forging a new K-12 academic model that has drawn attention nationwide. Students split their time between online instruction and face-to-face critical thinking workshops in a “blended learning” approach. In 2012, Carpe Diem was ranked among Arizona’s Top 10 highest-performing charter schools, having boosted its graduation rate to almost 90 percent.
In a major coup for Phoenix, computer-coding school Galvanize plans to open a downtown campus this fall. The Denver-based company specializes in a six-month training program to create a new pipeline of tech-savvy workers.
In addition to the innovation occurring in our schools and universities, our ed-tech entrepreneurs have also been putting Arizona on the map. Founded by serial entrepreneur Matt Pittinsky, Blackboard arguably is the most successful ed-tech company in the country — possibly the world — with its software being used in more than 100 countries.
After founding Blackboard, Pittinsky invested in Los Angeles-based Docufide, moved it to Scottsdale and renamed it Parchment. Since then, the company has raised more than $50 million in venture capital and facilitated the exchange of more than 20 million academic credentials.
Another success story can be found in CampusLogic. The Gilbert-based company is behind self-service student financial aid software that was last year’s winner of Venture Madness, presented by Invest Southwest in partnership with the Arizona Commerce Authority. CampusLogic already has raised over $4 million in its seed round.
Our lawmakers are also doing their part. Working hand in hand with the Arizona Technology Council, Reps. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, and Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, in 2014 spearheaded the passage of HB 2265 that permits school district governing boards to count computer science courses as the math courses required for graduation. It sent a strong message to our community that Arizona is a high-tech state and computer science is one of our priorities.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent blessing for restoring funds to joint technical education districts (JTEDs) also sent a clear signal that he values technical education. JTEDs are set up by school districts to provide training in technical fields such as health care, which can require expensive equipment or supplies that can make them unaffordable to any single school. The deal will help JTED programs in the state and provide their 100,000 enrolled students some relief.
Ed-tech remains one of the most exciting areas of economic development in Arizona and is perhaps the biggest growth story of our state. If we continue to work together, we can build an even stronger knowledge-based economy with high-paying jobs that will have a positive impact on generations to come.
Want to hear about what’s going on in Arizona’s technology industry? A panel of experts will be talking aerospace and more on Oct. 5 at the HEAT Forum.