Thursday, June 22, 2006


The Compensatory Education Space

Plato Learning has just won a contract at St. Louis Community College to supply online developmental mathematics. I'm not a big fan of Plato products, which tend to be big, cranky, creaky, and ineffective. They've built a business through acquisition and the provision of large, complicated system tools. They are so, well, yesterday.

But I love the space they are moving into. Developmental Math is promising. It's a $35MM annual market, with (unfortunately), lots of growth potential. The vast majority of entering freshmen in community colleges will take this course. To provide for the course you need the full math curriculum from arithmetic to trigonometry, which makes it easy for Plato to enter, and hard for a company like Carnegie Learning, which only has an Algebra product. Were I the curriculum supervisor in this space, I'd buy ALEKs before anything else, since ALEKs was created with Developmental Math in mind, and is a terrific product. My ranking is below:



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More generally, I love this space. Compensatory Education is where the shortcomings in the American Education system are redressed. Compensatory Education is community college, night school, adult education and professional training. It's where high school dropouts go for schooling when they realize they don't have the job skills to compete in the marketplace. It is where unemployed and underemployed people go for a skills upgrade. It is a huge market, growing daily. The New York subway trains are plastered with ads for schools like this, and online virtual schools that target this demographic, such as University of Phoenix and Strayer, are a smashing business successes.

Best about this space: the consumer makes the purchase decision. Unlike every other market in education (including higher ed), there are virtually no gate keeping decision makers in compensatory education. For the most part the student makes the purchase decision, and evaluates the efficacy of the product offering and result. Which means that the education offered in this space has to work, and it has to work for the student who puts up the time, and money, for the service. So compensatory education providers HAVE to offer a good product. They can't dress it up in research and prestige. They have to teach.

Which makes it a lot more real than "real" education.

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