They’re not offering incentives, rewards or a cute little app to manage the school day better. The team behind ASPIREDU is taking their decades of experience in education and using an analytics tool to help identify at risk students enrolled in online courses so that they can help these schools better manage student retention.
While they’ve been working on ASPIREDU for quite some time they just launched their public facing product after months of testing, yesterday.
The combine a simple overview of at risk students with easy access to details about each student, which helps colleges and universities have a better overall picture of students that could drop out.
ASPIREDU was formed after one of the cofounders, who had been in higher education for ten years, found that she was spending over half her day working on student retention. When she went searching for a software tool to help identify and manage at risk students there wasn’t one.
The bootstrapped startup received a little seed money in the form of a grant from Startup Weekend EDU.
We got a chance to talk with one of the founders Kevin Kopas, about ASPIREDU, because the other two cofounders are still working on ASPIREDU while employed full time they’ve withheld their names for this interview. Check out the interview below.
ASPIREDU is a company founded by educators that specializes in providing student retention tools to colleges and universities. Our flagship product, Aspire Analytics, accurately identifies at-risk students enrolled in online courses with the goal of providing educational institutions the tools to proactively manage student retention.
The Aspire Analytics system proactively identifies at-risk students by recognizing patterns as precursors to student attrition. The system retrieves and analyzes dozens of data points from the participating institution’s learning management system (LMS). Using proprietary technology, Aspire Analytics then assigns a risk index score to each student and produces an easy-to-use dashboard that allows college administrators to determine which students are currently at the highest risk for not completing a course.
In layman’s terms, how does it work? (In other words how would you explain it to your grandmother)
The dropout rate for online degree programs is higher than for traditional students attending a ground-based college or university campus. Colleges and universities are struggling to determine which students are going to fail a course or drop a course so that they may offer those students additional support and services. The behavior of a student in an online course will tell you whether they are going to succeed, if you can follow the breadcrumbs. So, what are the breadcrumbs that a student leaves in an online course? When is the last time they signed into the online classroom? Are they submitting assignments? Are they submitting them on or before the due date? Are they communicating with their instructors? All of these data points are recorded in the online classroom. The data is there, but colleges and universities are not sure how to use it effectively, or they do not have the time and resources necessary to do so. Aspire Analytics has identified the breadcrumbs that most closely correlate to student success in an online course. Our system retrieves this information, applies a series of mathematical formulas, and returns a list of all of the enrolled students to the college administrator in an easy-to-use dashboard telling them precisely which students need to be contacted today. This gives colleges and universities the opportunity to reach out to at-risk students before they drop a course instead of trying to identify what went wrong after the student has already dropped. We like to think of this system as a crystal ball that allows schools to be proactive as opposed to the rearview mirror approach that only allows for reflection after a student has dropped a course.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
Our leadership team is made of up of three individuals. Because we truly are bootstrapping the startup of ASPIREDU, we are practicing ‘responsible moonlighting’ – which means that we are not yet publicizing the names of all founders at this point. We rely on the income of our full-time jobs to support the development of our software-as-a-service solutions.
‘Founder A’ has over ten years in online higher education, with experience in both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. She knows the challenges of retaining online students and has created a solution that can be effectively used at any online institution.
Kevin Kopas has contributed to the development of several startup companies over the last decade. He founded a computer service company, founded and then divested from a sign and advertising company, as well as having served as an officer at an event aggregator company in Gainesville, Florida. Through his experience managing employees, taking products to market, and selling products and services, Kevin has the tools necessary to identify and overcome the challenges that ASPIREDU faces on a daily basis.
Founder C has worked as a software developer and project manager for 18 years. He currently works with one of the rising open-source projects, delivering enterprise-level web sites. His experience includes 14 years at IBM, delivering projects for clients using both U.S. and global sourced personnel. He also serves on a business advisory board for a local school district, blending his software knowledge and experience with his love of education.
Where are you based?
What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?
Orange County is booming. For the past year or so, Orlando has gained popularity as a hotbed for startups. Events like Startup Weekend EDU are bringing entrepreneurs together and that causes an explosion of new companies.
How did you come up with the idea for Aspire Analytics?
The idea for Aspire Analytics originated from a need. One of our founders has been in higher education for over ten years. She was spending half of her day on student retention issues. She went out in search of a software solution to identify online students at risk for dropping out, and could not find one. Challenging situations inspire ingenious solutions.
How did you come up with the name ASPIREDU?
The original name of the startup was ASPIRE. It is an acronym for ‘analyzing student persistence in retention efforts.” When forming the company, we wanted the name to reflect that we offer a service to educational institutions, so we revised it to ASPIREDU so that we could highlight the EDU in our branding.
What problem does Aspire Analytics solve?
The Aspire Analytics system allows institutions of higher education to maintain revenue, decrease costs, and avoid accreditation challenges caused by low retention.
Of the three million students who begin degree program each year, 53 percent never graduate.
Increasing the number of college graduates in the United States must include a focus on the degree completion of working adults. This “nontraditional” student population is the most likely to enroll in online degree programs – they are also the most likely to drop out. Aspire Analytics provides the power of real-time feedback on individual student performance, giving college and university administrators the information necessary to provide direction in student retention efforts on the institution-level, as well as the ability to identify specific students that may benefit from student support services.
What’s your secret sauce?
The secret sauce of the Aspire Analytics system is our proprietary algorithm, which has been developed and refined based on over ten years of experience in the online education industry. All of the data needed to immediately identify at-risk students is already contained in the learning management system used by colleges and universities. Though an API connection with the LMS, Aspire Analytics retrieves the necessary data, applies the algorithm, and populates an easily understandable dashboard. Part of the awesomeness of this system is that we keep it simple. College administrators don’t have the time to review ten different charts and graphs and reports and try to put together the pieces. What they truly need to know is who is about to drop a course and the highest risk factor for that student (grades, attendance, etc.) so that they can reach out to the student before they drop (crystal ball), not after (rearview mirror).
What is your go-to market strategy?
Our initial target market is colleges that have the most to lose from not maintaining industry-required retention rates. In order to maintain their accreditation, for-profit educational institutions are required to meet minimum retention rates. Failure to do so, and the resulting loss of accreditation, is a financial death penalty for these institutions.
What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?
One of our initial challenges was identifying our immediate needs and finding the right people that had the experience and expertise to contribute solutions for those needs. It was trial and error at first, but we are pleased with the outcome. Creating a team that works well together, and that complement one another, while actually enjoying the work is a challenge.
Who are some of your mentors and business role models?
We are currently a part of the Orange County Incubator. Through our relationship with Orange County, we have access to quite a few experienced entrepreneurs. Cody Swain and Jack Henkel have been very supportive. Tom Cannon with Bungo Box is one of the mentors that volunteers his time to the incubator and provides feedback. There are a number of great entrepreneurs and mentors that have contributed to our business plan.
What’s next for ASPIREDU?
With the initial launch of our product in a just a few weeks, we definitely have a lot on our plates right now. However, we are already working on our next analytics system geared toward college admissions as well as integrating our existing product with additional Learning Management Systems.