Big data goes to college: ed tech startup Civitas Learning scores $8.75M

Colleges and universities are sitting on mounds of data that could lead to all kinds of valuable insights – like which students are most at risk for failing or what course loads tend to lead to attrition. But, until recently, schools haven’t had the tools to aggregate and analyze those disparate datasets.
About a year ago, Civitas Learning launched to bring big data analytics to higher ed. On Tuesday, the Austin-based company said it raised an additional $8.75 million in venture capital.
The round, which follows $4.1 million closed last year, was led by Emergence Capital Partners and included existing investors Austin Ventures, First Round Capital and Floodgate, as well as new investors Felicis Ventures and New Markets Venture Partners. With the new funding, the company said it plans to expand to additional schools and build out its services.
Charles Thornburgh, CEO and founder of Civitas, launched the company after years of working in ed tech as an entrepreneur and executive at education company Kaplan. While focusing on higher education,  he became acutely aware of the pressures facing universities – from rising student debt to falling completion rates. Data that could help schools address many of their problems exists in boatloads, but the tools to crunch that data did not, he said.
“There are these remarkably large and fast-flowing data sets about the students [schools are] serving everyday,” he said. “But the thousands of decisions by students, faculty and administrators – none of [those] are benefitted at all by the data in those datasets.”
Civitas helps schools aggregate their various data streams – including Student Information System data on student enrollment and withdrawal patterns, learning management system data on how students are interacting with digital content, professors and peers, financial aid information and even swipe card data that reveals the school resources students are using. Then it analyzes the entire universe of data (both historical and current) to pull out helpful patterns and insights.
While it looks at school-specific data to help each institution better understand its student populations and forecast patterns, it also analyzes data across schools to give them predictive models based on an even richer dataset. So far, Thornburgh said, the company’s “community of data” includes information for three million students and 15 million courses at six higher ed institutions.
The company, which charges schools an annual fee for its data integration and analysis services, offers a limited number of applications developed in-house, including tools for helping students choose courses or for helping teachers identify at-risk students early on. Ultimately, Thornburgh said, the company plans to open up its API so that schools and developers can build additional apps on top of Civitas data.
The company’s growth comes amid increasing interest in companies focused on helping schools put student data to work.  At the K-12 level, the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation-backed InBloom is one of the biggest efforts to aggregate and analyze student data. A project led by the WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, and also supported with Gates funding similarly aims to help institutions track and predict student outcomes in higher ed.