Harvard, Syracuse and the University of Toronto are just a few North American institutions reporting that a record number of students have applied for fall 2009 admission. But as the economy flounders and endowments drop, more students than ever are also applying for financial aid. One company aims to make it both easier to apply to college and get money to fund it: Portland-based CollegeNET, a transactions applications and service provider for the $250 billion higher education market. CollegeNET provides scheduling software and admission services to 1,300 universities and colleges including Oregon State, Princeton and Stanford.
The company was founded in 1977 with its flagship product, Schedule25, a scheduling software algorithm invented by president and founder Jim Wolfston. At the time, Wolfston was earning his Ph.D. but decided to postpone his graduate studies to test his newly-developed scheduling algorithm in the marketplace. In 1995, he went on to launch a new branch of CollegeNET which catered to developing online, customized admission forms to universities. Many other ideas have followed, including online course evaluations, social networking and IT change management.
After a couple of years, Wolfston launched a traditional scholarship program. CollegeNET would come up with a topic and ask students to submit essays which would then be collated, read and assessed by a committee, and the top essay would be awarded a CollegeNET-sponsored scholarship. In a typical year, the company awarded about $25,000 in scholarships. This made way for CollegeNET.com in 2007, when Wolfston came up with the idea of social networking and peer voting as an alternative to the traditional model of awarding scholarships.
Today, students can write about topics that interest them, attracting comments and discussion from peers. Visitors to the website are able to vote for the funniest, most interesting or relevant posts on the site’s forums, and the students with the most votes at the end of each month win a scholarship ($5,000, $4,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000). The scholarship winners are diverse, for any student who is currently enrolled in college — or planning on attending college within one year — can compete. Further, scholarship foundations, private/public entities and corporations of all sizes can award their respective scholarships via the company’s social networking, peer-voting model. For example, Meadmap.com sponsored scholarships for August and September 2008. Such sponsored awards are either open to all students on the site or targeted to a qualifying sub-demographic based on the sponsoring entity’s criteria.
CollegeNET.com is free for users but is funded by advertising dollars, while the rest of the company’s products follow a SaaS model and are subscription-based. Apart from working with ad networks such as Google and Right Media, the company allows direct advertising and offers CPC, CPM and CPA models for advertisers. According to the company, CollegeNET.com attracts 250,000 unique visitors a month. According to Compete.com, CollegeNET got 91,916 unique visitors in December 2008 and 121,284 monthly visits.
The company completed a $10 million mezzanine round with 3i as the sole investor in March 2000. CollegeNET does not have any immediate plans to raise more money. Though it did not provide any financial information, the company did say that it is profitable and has been growing steadily. CollegeNET is currently focused on making CollegeNET.com the premier social networking site and growing its pool of awards from the current $15,000 per month to $150,000.
This segment is a part in the series : Deal Radar 2009