Monday, April 25, 2016

Silicon Valley Education Funding

Greetings reader!

Some time ago your Bookcharmer wrote about the company Udacity.  It's time to check in on Udacity because this headline caught my eye as I scrolled through the day's social media buffet:

"Sebastian Thrun Steps Down As Udacity's CEO."  This news comes to us courtesy of the news outlet Fortune:

Now, if you watch this little clip or read the transcript to the end, you will learn this bit of information:

"Udacity recently became one of technology’s newest unicorns—meaning it recently achieved a valuation of $1 billion. In 2015, Udacity raised $105 million from Bertelsmann, Emerson Collective, Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, and Drive Capital."

Now, if you've been slogging through budgets for library materials in the past decade, you might have raised your eyebrows to Botox level heights at the mention of Bertelsmann.  Bertelsmann?  The company that owns Penguin Random House???

So let's do a little math here...if libraries buy materials from Penguin Random House, we are supporting Bertelsmann, which is supporting Udacity, which in some ways is a "competitor" in that they are offering "nanodegrees" which might be dangled in front of potential students.

Just for fun, let's see how big an entity we are dealing with.  A quick hop into a business database and we find: "The company recorded revenues of E16,675 million ($22,161.1 million) during the financial yearended December 2014 (FY2014), an increase of 3.1% over FY2013."  This information provided by Marketline, properly cited as 2015. "Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA SWOT Analysis." Bertelsmann SE & Co. Kgaa SWOT Analysis 1-8. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 25, 2016).

So this is not a joke.  For example, are libraries buying titles from Random Penguins, like the winner of the Man Booker Prize, yes, yes we are.  WorldCat sez that 2062 libraries hold this title in 33 editions!  (Well done Mr. Marlon James!)  But what frustrates me here is that it is so easy to follow the money from Penguin to B'mann and now to Udacity.

Clearly, I need a lunch meeting with Bertelsmann.  How is it that a company euphemistically called a "unicorn" which as I understand it translates to "We don't know what you do but it might make a lot of money so here's a lot of money to make more" able to raise this kind of capital?  Bertelsmann, let's do lunch.

Companies of the world interested in funding higher education, I cordially invite you to contact the Development Office of your closest institution of public higher education and inquire about our needs, because we have needs.  Some of us have students on wait lists, impacted programs, and we have grown so used to words like "impacted" and "wait list" that they seem normal.  But we can also show you what we deliver, because we are getting better at documenting the accomplishments of our students and alumni.  We even have formal methods of accreditation that result in voluminous reports that say exactly where we are doing well and in which areas we need to improve.

I wish online courses were the magic solution, I really do.  Wouldn't that be nice?  Just think of how much more time the Bookcharmer would have to charm books!  But I'll save my diatribe on infrastructure for another post.  Just flash back to the last time your battery died on your portable device or you were out of wi-fi range to summon the idea.  Now multiply that by every college campus building and...oh sorry, said I wasn't going to diatribe.

It's a tricky thing to be in public higher education these days.  Are we truly so disconnected from companies like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz that Unicorns are considered a safer bet than public institutions of higher education?  Here in California we've recently seen to undoing of the Corinthian College group, which was dismantled for being a "degree to job" promise of emptyness.  The scoop is here:

Education isn't for making money, it's for making people, more specifically, citizens.  So if I can interest a CEO or five in the citizen making business, we have much to discuss.

Stay tuned...

No comments: