(Looking Back and Looking Forward takes a look at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education and technology.)
These are indeed “interesting” financial times (interesting, as in the curse, “May you live in interesting times”).
Stocks are down. Newer alternative investment options like cryptocurrency are down. NFTs may be moving permanently into the rearview mirror. There’s increasing talk of a recession. Oh, and there’s still a whole host of “unknowns” related to the persisting pandemic.
Investors are admitting that it’s not business as usual. Companies are preparing for an economic downturn. On the tech side of things, layoffs are trending. It should probably come as no surprise, then, that publicly-traded edtech companies are struggling.
Phil Hill posted this informative chart last week, showing just how turbulent the financial waters have been on the edtech side.
I think Phil is right in saying that we should expect more acquisitions as bigger companies and PE groups with money swoop in to take advantage of depressed company valuation is the space. I also like Michael Feldstein’s take that the current disruption may force a much-needed focus on “quality.” The challenge, of course, is that education and edtech have always been somewhat messy and complex.
Quality EdTech companies show a deep understanding of how their customers work and the obstacles preventing them from achieving positive change at an inflection point for their sector. And this quality of thinking isn’t necessarily going to come through in a pitch deck because it requires a conversation about the context that the investors often don’t have.
In the “interesting trends in higher education” department, it’s worth noting that full-time enrollment in online MBA programs has surpassed that of in-person programs. We’re also seeing a continued decline in net tuition revenue from first-year students and private colleges.
The story in K-12 this past week was about grade inflation. ACT released a study detailing the rise of student GPAs since 2016 and showing that things got even worse during the pandemic. While some see this as a big problem, others question whether rising grades necessarily point to something negative.
Something else that caught my eye last week was the discussion about millennials not finding good jobs until they were in their 30s. According to two recent reports from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce:
Most of the oldest millennials didn’t settle into good jobs until their early 30s, the reports found. In contrast, older members of the baby boomer generation mostly found good jobs by their mid-20s.
As they aged, the share of millennials with good jobs started to outpace that of boomers when they were the same age, according to the reports. But the longer transition period can still mean consequences for the younger generation, like not being able to pay off student loans, buy a house or chase new dreams.
The fact that young adults are taking longer to gain financial independence has consequences for the way they live their lives and how many will make decisions about the value of a college degree. One thing making things easier for young adults is the increasing number of companies offering education as a benefit. Count Lowes as one of those companies, now offering 300,000 full-time and part-time employees a chance to pursue college degrees, certificates and high school diplomas for free through its Lowe’s Guild Learning Marketplace. Also interesting is Walmart’s new careers program pilot aimed at giving degree holders experience running Walmart stores. Through this College2Career program, recent graduates can take fast-track route to management and have a chance to earn up to $210,000 within two years of joining the company.
Finally, I really liked Noah Smith’s exploration of the type of asset Bitcoin really represents. He suggests four theories.
- Theory 1: Bitcoin as the future of money
- Theory 2: Bitcoin as a worthless fad
- Theory 3: Bitcoin as “digital gold”
- Theory 4: Bitcoin as a tech stock
In case you were thinking of Bitcoin as the future of money, you might want to check out recent comments from Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the digital asset exchange FTX. He said that the proof of work system of validating blockchain transactions, which underpins bitcoin, was not capable of scaling up to cope with the millions of transactions that would be needed to make the cryptocurrency an effective means of payment. “The bitcoin network is not a payments network and it is not a scaling network,” he said.