With $11M, Quad Learning links community colleges and top universities for cheaper degrees

In the last year or so, we’ve seen all kinds of online learning startups emerge, from those that focus on a specific set of skills to those that offer massive web classes for free to those that partner with top universities to provide quality degree programs online.

On Thursday, Washington, D.C.-based Quad Learning launched with $11 million to bring yet another model into the mix. Founded by Phil Bronner, an education technology investor, and Chris Romer, a former state senator of Colorado, the startup partners with community colleges to offer a web-based platform and curriculum intended to help students more successfully transfer to a four-year college.

With tuition rates and debt loads going up, the idea is that a student could complete two years at a community college and then, with Quad Learning’s “American Honors” program, transfer to a top-200 university to finish the last two years of a bachelor’s degree program.

“The whole focus is around college affordability,” said Bronner. “We see it as the most cost-effective way to receive a bachelor’s degree.”

The startup, which raised funding from New Atlantic Ventures, Swan and Legend Fund, NEA, Comcast Ventures and other institutional investors, says its program can provide the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree at 35 to 40 percent of the cost of a traditional four-year program.

Quad Learning is currently running two pilot programs: at the Community College of Spokane and Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Students who are accepted to the program attend live classes at the community college but participate in smaller discussions with peers online, as well as receive other kinds of personalized and digital content through the web-based platform. The program, Bronner said, aims to provide a more rigorous, discussion-based experience, as well as offer guidance and support so students take the classes that meet their goals and will satisfy university requirements. So far, the company said, the program has attracted high-achieving students who have chosen community college for financial or family reasons.

To participate in the program, students pay the community college a rate that’s more than the $2,500 to $5,000 typically charged by community colleges but less than the $8,000 to $14,000 charged by in-state public universities, Bronner said. The community colleges pay Quad Learning a fee for providing the platform.

It’s still too early to gauge the program’s success in helping students bridge community college and four-year programs – we’ll have to wait until its first cohorts of students complete the program.  But, Bronner said the program is working to strengthen relationships between community colleges and state universities and provide clarity around the classes students need to take to be able to transfer. It’s also working on forging partnerships with universities willing to accept their transfer students.