In business schools around the country, there’s much ado about social entrepreneurship and a double bottom-line—social good and profits. In this space, I generally think about health and wellness, and profile founders of companies doing good in the world. But no conversation about creating social good can be had without mentioning education.
In the U.S., over the past 25 years, there’s been a national campaign to get kids to go to college. However, there hasn’t been as much focus on getting students through college, and I was shocked to learn that only around half of our college students graduate within 6 years; and if a student is from a low-income family or is a first generation college student, the likelihood of graduation within six years is less than 20%. That’s appalling, and people as renowned as President Obama and Bill Gates have made this national challenge a top priority.
Students drop out for nuanced and complex reasons. In addition to the enormous cost, many name student engagement—or lack thereof—as the culprit. The way that we measure student engagement is remarkably clunky and out-of-date. For our nation’s large, four-year universities, there’s the National Survey of Student Engagement. For two-year colleges, the benchmark is Community College Survey of Student Engagement. The way we drive student engagement—in freshman seminars, orientation, counseling, and advising—is equally antiquated and avoids technology for the most part.
Meanwhile, social technology and gaming are remarkably engaging, if not downright addictive. Much like health care, in a world where everyone interacts with everyone online and “there’s an app for that,” education remains mostly untouched.
What will it take for social technology to help engage students and keep them in college? We’ll need companies making social and mobile software designed specifically for college students. We’ll need apps.
One example of what the future could hold is a Facebook application called Schools App from San Francisco-based Inigral. Using Schools App, students can make friends, see what’s going on, and get involved in campus activities. Inigral saw a need to address the student engagement problem, and built social software based upon an interaction model that students already know and use daily. Students are attracted to it, and it presents opportunities to measure engagement in entirely new ways, such as how quickly they are making friends, how their personal interests suggest they are fitting in, and what events interest them.
Schools App may help schools understand a student’s intent to enroll, and whether that the same student will persist through to graduation. Already, it’s taken a key role in the enrollment management and orientation process at nearly twenty colleges and universities nationwide. Michael Staton, the co-founder and CEO, provides a type of thought-leadership in product design and technology development that is unique to the education space. And there is powerful proof that what they’re doing is working. Inigral recently became the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s first-ever venture investment because of its potential impact on graduation rates and its ability to easily scale to many of our nation’s schools.
Schools App is just one example of how social and mobile technology is going to help transform education. Startl and Kauffman Labs, both led and backed by leading philanthropic foundations, show promise for launching companies with a double bottom line. We should all look forward to companies like these making substantial leaps forward for our nation’s education system.