Sramana Mitra: Let’s say I am a consumer, and I sign up for a course in economics on the site of Cornell. I am a consumer, not one of Cornell’s business customers. Then I want to find a job. When I go to the Cornell website, are the resources I am able to access specific to Cornell, or are you also bringing employability resources through your relationships with various employers?
Shaul Kuper: At this time we are not doing that. These resources are provided by the universities.
SM: Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense for you to build those relationships and have a packet of relationships you plug in to for all of your customers?
SK: It may very well be. It is a good idea. Right now there is so much to build and so many opportunities to build on that it is a matter of choosing which the right ones are at the time.
SM: What are the top things on your list that are changing?
SK: The top things are the fact that online is going crazy right now. We see a complete commoditization of higher education. With that, we see schools tripping over each other to provide free education. In order to become free, you have to do a lot of things very well and become extremely efficient. We help them become efficient at what they do.
Ultimately what we are trying to do is take all the non-differentiating things they do and automate them all so they can spend more time on differentiating factors. A student right now has so many choices where to go to school. They can go anywhere in the world without leaving their home. Schools are competing like crazy to get those students. It is a different world for them now, where they now have to compete not only on course content and curriculum, but on services and trying to give students an experience. That is where we are helping. One of the things that is interesting with MOOCs, for example, is that schools are often giving the relationship they have with the student to the MOOC and not keeping track of the student. The students come to a website and they are redirected to a MOOC, where they join the MOOC and take a course for free. The university has no record of that student whatsoever. One of the things we do is keeping track of that student and help them build a relationship with them, even if they have gone off taking one of their MOOCS, ensuring that they maintain that relationship.
SM: How do you foresee all of this playing out? From what you are seeing, how do you expect things to evolve? How are people going to be able to differentiate?
SK: I think corporations are going to start playing a much larger role in paying for the education of their employees. I think corporations are going to be asked to step up and pay much more for education in the future. We are going to see a world like the U.S. Army, for example, where corporations are picking employees in high school and paying for their education in return for so many years of service. What is interesting with the MOOCs is that they are offering free courses. Where is the business model here? Is this really just a way to get students to campus? How is this going to work in the future? Is somebody going to fund this? There are lots of unanswered questions at the moment.
SM: Is it legal for a corporation to pay for a student’s education and then require that the student spend five years in that corporation, for example?
SK: That is a great question. I don’t know. It sounds like slavery.
SM: It is a very fair transaction, though. If I pay for you to go to school, you had better pay me back by working for me. Otherwise why would I pay for you to go to school? I am a corporation, not a charity.
SK: I don’t know the legality of it. Consider it as a student loan. You have to pay it back, and you can’t declare bankruptcy on them. I am not a lawyer, but I think that is where things are going to go. The demand for education is greater than it ever was. The growth rates for our customers are huge. The dollars and cents are getting cheaper. You can see companies that are offering all the education you can eat for $99 a month. It is very interesting to see how cheap it is becoming. These things are fine in the beginning, but eventually they need a business model. VCs will invest in them for a while, but then they are going to want to see a return.