Arizona has quietly built the largest education technology (EdTech) sector in the nation with more than 50 companies selecting our state for their headquarters. Startups and large established EdTech organizations are flocking here in droves, and we’re leading the way for an industry expected to grow to more than $252 billion this year, as reported by Harvard Business Review.
Typically, states develop hubs in certain technology sectors based on their collection of resources, expertise and leadership. This is no different for Arizona in regard to its EdTech community. Our state is home to what many would say is the very advent of the EdTech sector: University of Phoenix.
In 1976, the Apollo Education Group started the University of Phoenix to provide working adults with the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education at times most convenient for their schedule. The school included on-campus learning, but the real innovation came in 1989 in the form of online classes. The concept of online education was unheard of in the late ‘80s, but obviously, it stuck. Today, nearly every college and university offers classes and even entire degree programs online. And what began as the very first EdTech institution here has led our state to grow a collection of resources and expertise that help new EdTech organizations to thrive.
Today, companies such as CampusLogic, Picmonic, Pearson, Parchment and Proctorio are among our top homegrown EdTech companies. Each was founded in Arizona and has grown to become a sector leader across the country. In addition, companies like Zovio, which started in San Diego, have taken notice and moved their headquarters here to take advantage of our knowledge base and resources in EdTech. Our success with these startups has also spurred larger investments in the ecosystem. In fact, in 2018 EdTech organizations here captured $100 million in funding.
To further support the growth of EdTech in Arizona, several nonprofit and community-driven organizations have been founded. EdTechAZ was created by Matthew Pittinsky, founder of Parchment, and Gregg Scoresby, founder of CampusLogic, to support technology-driven innovation in all areas of education and enable a connected EdTech ecosystem. Another organization, CommunityShare, is a nonprofit founded in Tucson that works to connect the skills and real-world learning experiences of people in the community to the needs and aspirations of educators and their students.
The reason for Arizona’s growth in EdTech is not only due to our early entry in this sector. It’s also driven by the need for alternative platforms for learning. All our state’s for-profit, nonprofit and community-driven EdTech organizations are capitalizing on the need to support a broader and more diverse audience by harnessing the reach of the internet and technical innovation. They share the goal of supplementing traditional learning through innovative digital programs designed to extend learning or provide an alternative education experience for both adults and children.
Across every industry in 2020, organizations have been forced to transform their digital tools and platforms to serve customers, partners and their communities in new ways. However, education has been hit particularly hard. Never in our history have we witnessed the need for digital learning on the scale caused by the pandemic.
Fortunately, our state’s leadership in EdTech has kept our education system resilient during these unprecedented times. Not only have our resources and expertise been used to train teachers and parents on using digital platforms for learning, but we’ve also come together as a community to support online education. For instance, cybersecurity firm Acronis, and Ken Colburn, founder and CEO of Data Doctors, were even tasked with developing a “Cyber 101” guide to help educators retain a secure online learning environment.
One of the largest initiatives that the Arizona Technology Council and our community partners in technology, education and business have been working on since well before the pandemic is the expansion of broadband access. Our goal is to enable broadband availability for rural and low-socioeconomic urban K-12 schools and libraries, as well as higher education.
We feel technology is critical to drive online education applications and collaborative activities that improve learning delivery, and development of workforce skills and pathways. The pandemic has shined a bright light on this initiative due to the challenges we’ve seen in rural and low-socioeconomic urban areas within our communities. Children with limited access to the internet will fall behind if we don’t make broadband for all a priority.
Another initiative focused on ensuring every child has access to online learning is providing laptops. It was estimated that Arizona students need more than 100,000 laptops to facilitate online learning. The Council, the SciTech Institute, AZ StRUT, ElevateEdAZ and many of the leading technology organizations throughout Arizona have collectively donated more than 1,000 laptops to students in underprivileged areas. 100 of those laptops were donated through the SciTech Institute by one of the nation’s leading storage and information management services company here in Arizona, Iron Mountain.
Even before we were faced with a life-changing pandemic, digital transformation had already been happening across every industry. In education, it’s providing new avenues for learning to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity for advancement. Arizona is proud to lead the nation in EdTech and will continue to heavily support opportunities for alternative education and extended learning through technology.
Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.