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Q&A: What Bootcamps Can Learn from Higher Ed

Hi Vikram, what is your current role? What are your key focuses for the organization?

I’m the Chief Academic Officer at Rize Education, an organization that partners with colleges to build more affordable and effective degree programs for students. Our focus is to deliver experiences that delight students at scale. Scale is important for two reasons, first it reduces costs to students and second it increases our ability to improve access to opportunity.

My current primary focus as CAO is improving and streamlining academic processes - standardizing policies, rethinking ways we monitor our classes and improving instructor hiring and training.

I know early in your career you spent a long time at Princeton Review and then built startups including participating in YC Combinator. What drew you back to education?

Education has always been my home. I joke sometimes that I started working in education at the age of 7 when my mom started her own school. I’ve been surrounded by education all my life so when I saw an Angelist posting from Rize Education, I jumped on the opportunity to marry my passions for education and entrepreneurship.

Rize Education was incubated within Adrian College. Can you share a little more about the origin story?

Born out of a desire to fix the very broken higher education business model, a number of smaller institutions came together to create the Lower Cost Models for Independent Colleges (LCMC) Consortium. One idea to come out of the Consortium was to collaborate on building lower cost but high (employer) demand degree programs. By collaborating, colleges are able to pool instructional design, subject matter experts and employer partnerships. This strategy not only saves schools money but also ensures a higher quality program for students. Rize operationalizes all of this as the while-labeled provider.

The Learner Success Guild is primarily made up of folks working in alternatives to traditional high education but Rize actually partners with higher education institutions. What do you think bootcamps and alternative ed can learn from traditional higher ed?

Great question! A couple thoughts:

  1. We should all remember that colleges still have the largest market share of post-secondary learners ages 18-21, and that’s not likely to change for at least the next quarter century. So, if you actually want to serve this demographic of learners, it’s probably better to partner with, rather than work against, traditional higher ed..

  2. Curriculum is not defensible IP - you have to differentiate your product with something else, whether that’s classroom experience, employer connections, instructor/advisor hiring practices, etc. In general, your outcomes are driven by your execution, not your curriculum.

  3. It’s so common for notable figures in tech to say things like: “college is a waste” but the person saying that is almost always an outlier. If you spend any time in traditional secondary or post-secondary education, you’ll realize the baseline 18 yo is still developing and learning how to self-start and self-direct. One of the core value propositions of college is that it creates an environment for many young people to learn those, and other, skills central to adulthood.

What’s one piece of advice/practice that you have seen effective for supporting learners at scale?

I don’t know that I have anything here that is particularly revolutionary, but:

  • Standardize experiences - more students mean more variability, if you can minimize the ‘detractors’ to your experiences you reduce the risk of your courses going off the rails in unforeseen ways.

  • Build out clearly documented processes - but be willing to change them the moment it becomes clear they aren’t working

  • Spend more time training your student-facing folks than you think you should

If you're interested in being a part of a community of operators and educators focused on supporting adult learners succeed, consider applying to the Learner Success Guild.


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