The Evolution of CTE with Scott Stump and Chester Finn | THE REPORT CARD

Nat: Welcome to “The Report Card,” the education policy podcast from the American Enterprise Institute, where I get to have conversations with fascinating people on the frontlines of research, policy, and practice efforts to improve the lives of families, schools, and students. I’m Nat Malkus, resident scholar here at AEI. And today, I wanna focus on finishing college. Let me start out with a statistic Half of students that enter college don’t get a degree in six years. Half. I mean, if you look at four-year rates, they’re a little bit better. They’re like 60%. But when you look at for-profit schools, the rates are 26%. Open-access schools, that’s schools that will let any student with a high school degree in, 32% of kids finish. The numbers are even worse for two-year schools, where if you look across the nation, less than one-third of two-year students have a degree three years out. Now, obviously, this is troubling. For decades, we focused on college for all. We’re trying to get more kids out of high school and into college. And we’ve been successful I mean, grad rates are pushing 80%. The percentage of those kids going into college is also growing, but coming out the other side, we’re facing another dilemma, and that’s getting kids through And, of course, issues like high levels of student debt, limited earning potential, and the lost investment by taxpayers come right along with this lack of college completion To tackle this topic, we have two conversations with folks approaching it from different sides First, we’ll talk to Marc Jerome, president of Monroe College, who will give us a look under the hood of his university. Monroe is a national leader in urban education that delivers some of the best outcomes especially from minority and low-income college students that you’ll find across the country. We’ll talk with Marc about his school and, in particular, their efforts to boost college completion Then we’ll hear from two CEOs of ed-tech startups, companies that are trying to use tech solutions to help universities increase completion rates Karan Goel, founder and CEO of GetSet, and Andrew Magliozzi, CEO of AdmitHub, will talk to us about their company’s efforts to change student behavior and promote college completion But first, let’s welcome Marc Jerome. Marc, thanks for coming on the podcast Marc: I’m glad to be here Nat: All right. So, for a little bit of introduction, can you just give listeners a thumbnail of Monroe? It’s not a household name Marc: No. So, Monroe College was founded 85 years ago in the Bronx, serving that population It was actually founded by my grandfather, and I’m the third generation of my family to lead the institution. I’ve been there 25 years, and the institution is in the poorest congressional zip code in the United States And we have been serving those students for 85 years. So, we view ourselves as having some of the best experience with low-income, particularly black and Latino first-generation students. And we pride ourselves on having an almost maniacal focus on outcomes, student success, and low debt Nat: So, how big are you? We know who you serve. And what’s sort of your bread and butter? I mean, what are your students? Four-year degrees, two-year degrees? Marc: So, the institution is unusual. It started as a two-year institution, grew to four-year and graduate. So, we have all three academic levels. Our main campus serving adults is in the Bronx. We have a traditional residential campus in New Rochelle with about 1,000 foreign students, division one athletics, almost 1,000 athletes, and about 1,100 students in residence life and dormitories, beautiful dormitories But consistent across all campuses is the enrollment is disproportionately black and Latino and a very high percentage of students who receive the Pell Grant Nat: So, we wanted to talk to you today about efforts for college completion. Before talking about what you’re doing at Monroe, can you just give me your take on why you would say college completion numbers are worth paying attention to and are a frontier that we’ve got to improve on? Marc: Yeah. So, about eight years ago when President Obama started and there started to be a focus on higher ed and a scorecard, I started getting involved in outcomes. And part of it was, without us knowing it, Monroe College started being cited objectively by third parties as having these outcomes. And as I looked at the outcomes, what happened, two things happened. The first was, I was just appalled at the opportunities or lack of opportunities for low-income students and I was appalled at the outcomes. The local two-year public institutions had outcomes well below 10% for on-time and around 15% for time and a half Nat: So, you’re telling me that the two-year institutions in New York are getting 1 in

10 of their kids out the door with a credential on time Marc: They’re getting less than that. And at some points, the data was below 1%. And so what happened is, I felt the data was such that it almost shocks the conscience. And for the benefit of even these institutions, something has to change. And so for eight years, as a colleague, I’ve been pushing for change across the board. It’s not an easy battle because people are happier being less regulated than more regulated. And as you hear, I’m one of the few college presidents who’s happy to advocate for good, effective regulation that has a tangible result Nat: So, before we get into the regulation, at Monroe, what are the comparable numbers? What’s your completion rates? Marc: So, I believe our iPads, which is the federal data, shows in the mid-50s for 2-year on-time, I think, approaches 40, and is above 50 for 3, time and a half. For bachelor rates, for a low-income student who receives Pell, I think, the on-time rates are close to 70%, approaching 80% Nat: Okay. So, that’s better than average It’s very high nationally Marc: Right Nat: Yeah. It’s better than the national average and better across the board. So, let’s talk a little bit about breaking this down into buckets. Right? So, I wanna think about how do you attack this? What are the reasons that kids aren’t graduating? So, I could think of, well, you know, it’s just money, right? They can’t afford. There’s some lack of university support, you know, the universities aren’t putting things in place. Kids are disengaged in the classroom or just not really engaged in the work that they’re there to be on, so maybe they should never have come. Or maybe they just can’t do the academic work, they need social support. I mean, how would you bucket these as the main reasons? Marc: Basically, three things. The first is, the institution has this intense focus on outcomes and tracking, and so the institution across all departments has to be dedicated to following students from the day they start, seeing if they’re at risk. If they are at risk, coming in with an intervention, being very interventionalist, and then making sure they stay on track. Just having that as a college-wide culture is very rare. And what I mean by that is because students can drop out because of how public safety deals with them, how a cafeteria deals with them, how financial aid in bursar deals with them. And most colleges approach this through some kind of student support center. But our realization a long time ago was it has to be holistic and it’s kind of shocking what makes students drop out. So, that’s one Two gets back to how I started. The world has changed in urban centers. In New York, especially, large, impersonal public high schools are replaced by these small, very focused, I think, fairly effective schools where the principals are awesome, APs are awesome. They know every kid by name. And if the student struggles at all, they are intervening. The disconnect is they go from that environment where they’re known, loved, and supported every step of the way, to essentially large public anonymous. There are many reports Third Way, a nice independent group, put out a report that’s about Pell deserts. And what a Pell desert means is, essentially, we can talk all we want. The low-income students essentially have no choice other than their local institution. They don’t look at any data. No one looks at it. There’s one choice So, at Monroe, we couple that focus on outcomes with a intense focus on a relationship from the first day. Almost no one is doing this So, when I arrived as the president, I realized I had to reorganize the college. And I recruited about 60 of the most student-oriented people I could find. It didn’t matter where they were from. It didn’t matter their credential They could have been a graduate, they could have been public safety. As long as they were committed to connecting with a kid and helping that kid, and we assign those people by high school. So, I track every single high school what their first-semester retention is, second semester, third. And we meet on a regular basis. And we communicated back to this high school because sometimes the high schools know more about the kids than we do because they’ve been with them for four years Nat: And they’re small enough Marc: And they’re small enough Nat: They’re coming from these known environments So, would you contrast this with a typical sort of community or a four-year college? I mean, is this just a colder sort of service provision mindset where kids come and they see a counselor and Marc: I think generally, in higher ed, the division of academics and student support is too great. And most higher ed institutions work as silos. So, the second thing, which is equally as important, is this thing called remediation. Generally, if you showed the data you gave, 30%, if you took out remedial and looked at those students separately, they

probably are graduating at less than half that rate. Remediation is the dead-end of higher ed. And so for 20-something years we’ve been testing, testing, testing, and we feel our remedial approach is one of the best We generally follow the recommendations of a group called Complete College America, but such things as free boot camps before the kids start to get them out of the remedial class. One of the most important things we do is most public institutions do not permit a student to take a credit class before they’re done with remedial. It is the single most demotivating thing to take a high school kid who wants to be IT, accounting, a chef, a business person, and for one year reading, writing, and math at the high school level And often, even if they pass the class, they’re subject to a high stakes outcome exam that they don’t pass. And so we co-register remedial with credit and we’re teaching part of the remedial work in the credit level class, and that is very important Nat: And that solves the engagement piece that a lot of kids are missing if they’re stuck in remediation for a while Marc: Yeah, because students who are receiving no credit will often say, “Why should I attend the class? I’m not getting any credit for it. It’s high school.” But do not underestimate the remedial challenge. It’s massive. For adults, we defer math one semester, all adults Probably even the people in this room, if I said to you, you know, “Here’s the word problem. The two trains are going at each other. Here’s the velocity.” Adults are generally math-phobic. And in our institution, most adults are coming back to get back into a career, math scares them, so we defer that And then the last thing is just constantly having the culture of what is right for the student and how do you help the students Many institutions pride themselves on weeding out unprepared students. We have a culture of trying to work as hard as we can to save as many kids as we can and give them the resources And that’s not always an easy culture to have Nat: Sure. Well, if colleges are trying to weed kids out before they complete, the statistics bear out they’re doing a pretty efficient job of that, but… I have another question And I mean, a lot of times people will say, you know, “It’s the money. That’s the main thing. Tuition is too high.” And tuition is high. And don’t get me wrong, student debt is a problem. It’s also can be thought of as an investment, right? I’m gonna take out this debt because it’s worth it, shows that it pays off. Talk to me a little bit about that, but also, I just wanna note here that it’s been told to me you guys have really high loan repayment rates, low cohort default rates. So, can you tell us a little bit about those measures, what they are, and why they’re important? Marc: Let’s start with the first myth Nat: Sure Marc: The first myth is generally, in my mind, price and cost is not a huge issue for low-income students if they look. Almost all community colleges, and my institution, a low-income student has to pay nothing. The Pell Grant covers the cost of their tuition and they’re paying zero. And in fact, I actually believe there’s gonna be a reverse relationship, but from…to free college and completion because, as you alluded to, there’s something about the notion of skin in the game. So, if you are going free and you can drop out and fail out and still come back and there’s no penalty to, it leads to a disincentive. So, we introduced a program called Presidential Partners, really anticipating the whole free college movement And for certain high schools, every student, even middle-income students are guaranteed free, associate and bachelor. But we insisted they pay for subsidized books. That really helps because you want students have bought into something, a typical public two-year, not only does the student go for free, they get a stipend because Pell is an entitlement So, if the tuition is 1,200 and the Pell Grant is 2,500, they get the extra money as a check In New York, the state grant covers tuition and the whole Pell Grant. The $5,000 Pell Grant is cashed to the student, and still, completion is below 10. So, I think there are some notion to the studies that free-free, especially for low-income students might have an opposite approach because of this whole skin in the game and investing Nat: Yeah, and it also strikes me that with the current status of a lot of these schools not getting a lot of kids through, and then we say, “Well, the real problem must be costs Let’s make it free.” I would anticipate a lot more kids coming in the door, but not necessarily a lot more kids going out the door. So, it seems like it could also be, well, not our best foot forward Marc: So, I mean, the thing is, my general belief is, I think the free college programs will end up lowering the amount of low-income students who go to college, raising the amount of middle and higher-income students who would have historically gone to private colleges, but now are lured to public colleges because of the free. Those schools then use that to

attract the best middle and high-income kids and they crowd out low-income students. So, I believe we’re gonna see some unintended consequences to the free college movement and I think there will actually be less low-income students attending because I think the institutions still care about U.S. News and World rankings more than the number of low-income students they enroll. And again, what my institution is, is we’re comfortable with our role. We believe in low-income first-generation students We’re not worried about U.S. News and World ranking, though, we do fine on it just because of the outcomes. That’s what makes us an unusual place Nat: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that student debt side, about loan repayment and cohort default. First of all, can you just explain to folks what do those things mean? Marc: So, let’s just start with cohort default rate. Basically, the federal government does something unusual with no credit, with bad credit, with a bankruptcy, the federal government will give every single student a student loan, and it doesn’t matter if they were bankrupt the day before, it doesn’t matter if they’re holding $100,000 of unpaid credit card debt, you get your student loan. The student loan, if the student fails to pay it back after they graduate or drop out, and is more dropping out, the loan will go into default and it will harm their credit. It doesn’t allow them ever to go back to school in the short-term and get aid. They have to rehabilitate it And actually, AEI and your colleagues here, Jason Delisle, did this wonderful report on how there’s nuances to this. So, in my mind, with the programs on income-based repayment that President Obama had put out, there should be almost no default, but still, over half a million students default. And at my institution, we, about 15 years ago, just put the resources to advising students because, again, people are not defaulting because they don’t have a job or the college didn’t do well. They’re often just defaulting because they have no history in their family of receiving the bill, setting up the payment plan, and making the payments Nat: Executing. Yeah Marc: And what your colleagues here showed and our own research actually supported was the notion that many students who default end up paying their loans in full through garnishment because they’re working, they’re making a living. They just weren’t responsible So, cohort default rate is a big deal. Our institution has one of the lowest cohort default rates in the country, but it’s not random It’s because there’s a team of about 10 people that tracks the minute someone is having trouble on their student loans, we get a report, we contact the student, we offer assistance And now because of income-based repayment, which means they’ll allow you to pay what you can afford on your salary, even if it’s $10 a month, no one should go into default And so my belief is, if the federal government required institutions to put resources to counseling students on their student debt, the default rate would drop in half Nat: Right. And again, this is a little bit more of your interventionist policy, right? You’re getting in there and trying to make sure that things get turned around before they are finalized [inaudible 00:18:11.527] Marc: Yeah. And it’s also resources, though I mean, many institutions, there’s no requirement You hire people to counsel students on their student debt. There’s no requirement that you assist students. So, in my mind, if we are helping to give the students a debt, we have an ethical responsibility to help them manage that debt well Nat: Right. So, you’ve got good outcomes Everybody wants good outcomes. I’m assuming that there are other college presidents that you network with. When people come and ask you and say, “What are we doing? What are you doing? What’s the secret sauce?” What do you tell them? How do you communicate that? Marc: Well, I mean, I go over the things I just went over with you. The one area you address with me, which is different is the loan repayment rate. We actually have a poor loan repayment rate. And the reason is, is there’s all different definitions, but the current definition is how much principal our student is paying off. And because low-income students actually sometimes benefit by going into a program where they make payments, but don’t lower the principal because the loan may be forgiven at some point if you go into public service, looking at loan repayment by principal, I think is inappropriate. And generally, almost every institution that serves low-income students has low repayment rates And schools like NYU and Columbia and Harvard have high repayment rates, particularly because they’re serving higher-income students who can pay them back Nat: It’s a different situation Marc: So, I’m a believer that metric is actually not the most appropriate metric. And I do get a lot of calls on that because originally, the College Scorecard had an error and was over-inflating every institution’s repayment rate, and I noted it, and eventually, they had to change the repayment rates for every college in the country down 20% Nat: Well, quickly, you noticed the error and asked them to change it. And so you’re paying attention to the College Scorecard data, which actually you just mentioned is

data that the Obama administration put together to reflect, I think, it’s campus, not program-level data Marc: Like institution Nat: Yeah, on a variety of indicators for sort of quality and return. How useful is that data, you know, briefly? And you spent a lot of time with it. How does it help you? Marc: Well, I mean, number one, you like to know how your institution is stacking up against a similar institution in your area and across the country. Number two, the College Scorecard was helpful to journalists, researchers, and thinkers because you can look at the whole host of factors and compare. I believe the College Scorecard should be used for non-partisan, outcomes-based reasons, though, those two sentences may not actually be allowed to go together Nat: Right. I don’t know what you’re talking about Marc: Exactly. But for eight years, I’ve been involved with this because we’ve been on the receiving side of some proposed regulations that I felt were not rational and that were a little more political in nature than rational Nat: So, Marc, let me take a perspective from K-12. I pay a bit more attention to K-12 I really care about the transition into college And now, of course, I have to care more about completion. But we’ve had this problem wherein K-12, we’ve been really focused on certain indicators. One of them was grad rates, and we’ve been very successful in pushing that up. But there’s a major challenge here, and that’s that you can, you know, win the battle on grad rates and you can lose the war by just getting kids out the door by any means necessary. So, there’s a standards and a rigor argument. And I wonder, is that a concern for you across the board in college completion or do we not need to worry quite so much about sort of watering down the rigor of degrees? Marc: I actually think it’s a little bit of a red herring. I’ve heard it a few times The distinction between lower ed and higher ed is lower ed attendance is mandatory, higher ed it’s not. If lowering the standard could result in higher graduation rates, we’d see a lot of it. I actually believe lowering the standard ends up resulting in lower completion rates because students, they’re not stupid, they’re sharp. Even if they’re academically weak, they know what’s going on. They need to be engaged. They need to be challenged And in my experience, if there are faculty that have lower standards, they generally have lower retention by one grade here and there, maybe higher. The overall effect of it is lower completion. So, I am not a believer of lowering standards at a higher education institution can lead to higher completion Nat: Right. It just doesn’t solve the problem Marc: It just doesn’t solve it. But, again, since there’s been very little focus and little regulation or even bully pulpit, aspirational numbers for higher ed, higher ed needs a little of a dose of that outcomes mentality that lower ed got. And if you go into New York City, every high school gets a snapshot, but the snapshot is followed up with some teeth, and if they don’t meet their metrics, someone’s coming in to visit them. I generally don’t believe in, like, the high stakes, high penalty regulatory approach. I actually believe in the helping approach. But if there started to be a nationwide push to saying, “First, let’s focus on on-time graduation. Enough with this time and a half.” We’re talking about full-time first-year students. We should have a goal that two-year students graduate in two years, four-year students graduate in four years Nat: Novel Marc: And remember, in higher ed, we can offer classes in the summer, we can offer classes at night. And so, in my institution, oddly enough, almost all the four-year bachelor students graduate in three just because we go to school a special semester in the summer, orientation before they start. It’s just a different approach Nat: So, Marc, for a lot of folks, this will seem like I’m bearing the lead, but Monroe is a for-profit college. And for-profit colleges, man, they’re the worst. Everybody knows they’re the worst. How does being a for-profit play into this? What do you think about the space generally because it is true that a lot of for-profit colleges are having really lousy completion rates? Marc: So, I would say, first, I don’t think there’s any evidence for-profit colleges are having worse completion rates than the equivalent not-for-profit and publics that serve their same students Nat: Okay. Play that out for me Marc: Overall, on the two-year level, I believe the two-year publics have lower completion than the two-year proprietary. The four-year for-profits have lower completion than the four-year, but it’s unfair analysis because when you put four-year proprietary or for-profit, which are generally non-competitive, they’re not Nat: They’re open admission, right? Marc: Those are. Many of them are Nat: Yeah Marc: And you’re putting them in the same bucket as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. If you just compare them to other open admission institutions or historically black colleges or minority-serving, I think the data looks good. I think, generally, the public and some of the regulatory has mistaken or confused behavior which has been some poor behavior

and poor ethics in the for-profit sector with outcomes. And one of my big things, if I can say anything to the public, is outcomes for low-income students across the country are miserable in all sectors. And the focus on the for-profit sector almost ends up missing the point. It actually, I think, causes all the progressive groups to not fulfill their missions of helping low-income students because you’re putting all the regulatory weight on one sector, relieving the regulatory weight on the other sectors, and the data just shows that Nat: And just to go back, as a point of reference, I said earlier that on average four-year institutions have a completion rate around 60%, but open-access institutions, at least NCES has it pegged at 32%. That is a far cry from the average for those Marc: What is it for a for-profit four-year? Nat: For a for-profit four-year it’s 26. So, it was knocked down a little bit, but we’re talking a few points as opposed, a huge schism Marc: Yeah. The other thing you have to remember is, like the not-for-profit in the public world, the for-profit world is diverse. My institution is founded by my grandfather and great-aunt 85 years ago. It’s had a stability of leadership. Only four presidents. I follow my father Nat: And it kept in the family, right? Marc: And we believe… In our respect, we operate much more as a not-for-profit than many of our not-for-profit peers. Please do not kid yourself that not-for-profit colleges and public colleges are not fighting for students every step of the way, giving student debt where they shouldn’t be giving, having low completion rates sometimes where they haven’t And in fact, it just seems to be inappropriate policy that, you know, my institution has pressure to make sure debt is low, completion rates are high, but my competing public and not-for-profit have none of that pressure And they can give loans. If you just peruse the news, the news is full of scandal and intrigue in the other sectors as well. And it just so happened that the data just hasn’t been explored. And I’ll give you an example for me So, the Obama administration proposed a regulation that looked at debt and earnings. I actually liked that metric a lot. And I thought when they proposed it, that the reason they proposed it was proprietary colleges had much worse debt to earnings than everyone else. But as the years went on and the College Scorecard came out, I think the data shows debt and earnings, especially for low-income students and open access schools, are miserable across the board, yet no one wants to look at it and acknowledge it. Same thing with repayment rates. So, repayment rates, the Obama administration proposed a rule only applicable to for-profit institutions that essentially said, “More than 50% of your students have to be paying down the principal on their loan.” And after the error was disclosed and uncovered, it ended up probably more than half of all colleges in the United States would not pass that rule Nat: Wouldn’t meet that threshold Marc: And so that hypocrisy has not been exposed And the unrelenting focus on one sector of higher ed, without looking at similar institutions, I believe, is leading to bad policy and, I believe, generally, the progressive institutions that are only focusing on this have lost sight of their mission, they’re no longer helping low-income students, and, in fact, they’re proposing policies that harm low-income students Nat: Well, it’s interesting. I mean, for-profit, nonprofit, is a tax distinction, not a mission statement, but it’s often thought of as a different way. But there is a thrust to regulate for-profit schools in a different structure than we would regulate the rest of schools as if there were a differentiation. It’s hard to see how that’s going to lead to better outcomes for students across the board who may go to one or the other Marc: I mean, what’s remarkable for me is anytime we ask, “Okay. If this standard is so good and it’s identifying institutions that are not serving students well, why would you not want it applied to the rest of higher ed where there’s evidence that there are many institutions that fail it and even fail it at much worse rates?” So, if you are a proponent of low-income students, low-income students do not know that this college is for-profit, public, or a private and not-for-profit. It’s the same as the hospitals. I teach for 25 years of freshman class in the Bronx and I always start off with a lesson on for-profit and not-for-profit, and I say, “Is your local hospital for-profit and not-for-profit?” And they all perceive the hospital as for-profit, and in New York, by statute, they cannot be And what’s happening is, you’re having public policy groups advocate even to take away grant aid from poor students just because they attend for-profit institutions. And that is, to me, remarkable that they would be actually advocating something that would harm thousands and thousands

of students. And at the end of the day, I’m a total believer in good regulation. If the for-profit institution fails it, let it fail it. But boy, oh boy, be fair, be straight, protect students, and if there’s a not-for-profit institution that fails it or a public institution, you have to hold them to the same standard or else we’re just being hypocritical across the country Nat: Marc Jerome, President of Monroe College, thanks for coming on the podcast Marc: It was my pleasure Nat: Karan and Drew, welcome to “The Report Card.” Drew: Thanks for having us Karan: Thank you Nat: So, we’ve been talking a little bit about college completion and about what institutions can do, talking to Marc Jerome, but you guys work with institutions of higher education You’re kind of coming from the outside. Let’s start with Drew and then Karan. Give me a thumbnail. First of all, what is AdmitHub? Drew: It’s a conversational AI platform to support students on the path to and through college. Because that probably means nothing to people who are listening Nat: Sure. What does that look like? Drew: It’s a series of text messages that you get on your phone. One day the school mascot will send you a text and say, “Hey, I’m gonna help you through the journey to college and beyond. Ask me anything.” And it will be an ongoing daily conversation back and forth about everything that you need to do to succeed that’s outside the classroom, ultimately Nat: Right. So, I went to Covenant College, mascot is the Scots. I got a Scottish guy Drew: Oh, yeah Nat: I don’t know where Drew: Does he have a name? Nat: I don’t even know. I don’t think so He’s a Scot, Scot. Yeah, yeah. So, Scot, I get a text message from him and he says, “I can help you.” And I can say to this guy, “I need help with financial aid. I need…” Drew: Anything you can possibly think of and probably most things you can’t, people ask us. Yeah. You’d be surprised how many people really want to know if there’s a Chipotle on campus. But also, “My parents are divorced Which one do I put on the FAFSA?” or, “Hey, my mom is my only parent and she’s undocumented What do I do?” Nat: Wow. So, what’s the capacity? I mean, it’s a bot, right? Drew: Yes Nat: Yeah. Okay. Bots usually get a bad name on Twitter and so forth, but this is a bot for the force of good, I’m assuming Drew: Certainly Nat: Right, yes. And so how do administrators sort of get this on board? How many places are you at? Just give me a little slice of the market Drew: We have 44 college partners and a few other nonprofits NGOs, including Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room, which is a great organization. And the first thing they do is they trust us, a great deal. So, thank you to all our partners. And we guide them on the process of creating a conversational strategy because, quite frankly, the buzzwords aren’t new. We’ve been talking about personalized support for students, one to one advising, student-centric advising for a long time But, really, it’s only with the advent or the rise in AI technology over the last three years that have made that truly possible to basically have a genuine back and forth, one to one conversation with every student every day Nat: Right. I was looking along with one of our RIAs, Cody, who had been doing some work with you. And he was texting back and forth some ridiculous things, some just basic questions And so it’s sort of like what you would expect from Alexa. It can answer your questions, but it’s on your phone. Now, what’s the difference between the sort of Alexa approach, which is like, “Hey, I want to ask some questions,” and the bots that you’re bringing out here in AdmitHub? Drew: Yeah. So, we combine natural language processing to answer the questions with a proactive approach, which is not necessarily AI. It’s sort of like a choose your own adventure story over text message where we’re tied into the school’s student information system so we know everything about you that they know, and we’re able to reach out to you and say, “Hey, man, you got to get your FAFSA done,” or actually, we can also celebrate the wins like, “Congratulations, you did it. Here’s a sweet animated GIF of Tina Fey making it rain money.” You know, whatever you need Nat: But it’s proactive Drew: Most assured. In fact, the bulk of what we do is proactive. And the reason the AI is essential is because when you send a proactive campaign, it’s such a call and response environment over SMS that you just get flooded with messages back. And most schools would not be able to handle the types of messages with the infrastructure they have, just because they’re already strapped So, we like to say we handle the tier one and tier two stuff and escalate the other things that, quite honestly, like, you’re not gonna solve with a text message Nat: Right. Because you need a human Drew: Yeah. We’re gonna connect you to either a staff member, maybe another student in these instances where Karan and I work together to help you succeed and get the support you need Nat: Well, I’ve left Karan in the wings for too long. So, Karan, you run GetSet, which is a very sort of different approach. What’s GetSet? Karan: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s different, but it’s similar in the sense that the notion is students are on their phones or on their computers all the time. Let’s get them support

they need, where they are, when they need it. Let’s have it be live. Let’s have it be fast. The notion behind GetSet is… What Drew has built is incredibly powerful and incredibly helpful at solving certain set of things. So, what Drew is doing is there are lots of great things where you just have a question, you just wanna know something, and Drew can instantly give you the answer Drew: Drew bot, actually Karan: Pounce. Whatever the bot is called at the school you’re at Nat: Scot Karan: Scot. Exactly. Scot can answer a lot of things for you instantly. But sometimes you ask a question that just doesn’t have a black or white answer. It’s about a feeling, it’s about a habit or a behavior Drew: And lonely Karan: Yeah. And the bot will tell you, “Well, I’m here for you.” But it’s a bot Nat: I’m sorry that you’re feeling lonely Karan: And so GetSet is about this notion that whatever challenge you have in life, and obviously right now we’re focused on the challenge of getting into and succeeding in college and finding a great career, whatever challenge you’re encountering, chances are that the solution to it is something that many other people have had to go through, right, they’ve experienced the same challenge as you, these people are relatively similar to you. And if you could be connected with people who empathize with you and have literally just been in your shoes, right? So, Drew and I are entrepreneurs. We can go hear someone who’s built a billion-dollar company, and that’s interesting and it’s inspiring, but more useful as someone who’s just a little bit ahead of us, someone who’s a little bit at a further stage than us and was in our shoes two years ago. And we go to them and we say, “Hey, we have this challenge. It’s really hard to scale up our product team or engineering team.” And that person says, “Oh, I ran into that same thing and here’s what I did.” That is literally the most powerful way that we as human beings learn to get better and learn to get through challenges. We could read a book, we could watch a YouTube video, but none of those things resonate like someone who’s been in our shoes and is relatable to us Nat: So, Drew’s approach is, “Let’s get a bot that can get sort of cold information right into your pocket when you need it.” Karan: Exactly Nat: And GetSet is trying to do a very different thing, that is, trying to get warm information, whatever you want to call it, someone that you can identify with, but on what issue? So, how do you build this sort of relationship? Karan: Yeah. Great question. So, at the core of what GetSet does is we have a student community And there’s a lot of things out there about how social media can be destructive or hurtful And one of the keys about GetSet is that it’s very different from existing social media GetSet does not have photos and videos. GetSet is not a place to put the perfect, best parts of your life. GetSet is the raw. What am I struggling with? What do I suck at? What sucks about my life right now? And because it’s text-based, people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to curate that message or that story and they can be raw and be authentic in it. And students don’t really ask on GetSet, “Is there Chipotle on campus?” They ask things like, “I really don’t get along with my roommate How does one handle that?” These are things that don’t have a kind of scripted answer that one can provide, but there are things where the answers that will shape our behavior and help us get through that are to be connected with other students in our community who’ve been through that challenge Nat: So, to help the listener sort of understand what GetSet is, it’s a social network sort of like, you know, Facebook, LinkedIn, that sort of thing, where you connect to a bunch of students, but then we strip away some parts, right? So, there’s not a lot of the flash and so forth that you get with pictures and trying to wound up each other, this is Instagram for a lot of folks. And you’re trying to build community that way. But the institution brings GetSet to the students Karan: Correct Nat: This is sort of like a homegrown thing So, what do the institutions use it for? And how do they get started? Karan: So, the first part of GetSet, when a student comes into the engine, much like a dating app where they’re swiping to say, “I’m interested in this person,” because GetSet is not photo-oriented and GetSet is who I am oriented, you have a tiny little profile photo, it says your name. What are you studying? And you have a little bio that you write about yourself. And it shows you, what do you have in common with this other person? “Oh, Drew is also a commuter student. Oh, Nat is also studying business.” Right? So, it shows me what I have in common. And I choose to connect with these people by swiping one way and I choose not to connect with them by swiping another way. So, that’s the first hook Now, the way that colleges are deploying it is it’s generally given in orientation. It can be given earlier. So, I’ve just enrolled in the school, I’d like to get to know other students, or it can be in the first class, but that’s generally the range that we’re being deployed in. Then the students, after they’d make some connections, we create a feed for them for stories from those people that they’re connected to on topics that are relevant to them. And what’s happening is every time a student likes a story, comments on a story we’re learning, you know, Nat likes stories that are really emotional. Drew likes stories that are really cut and dry and just to the point. And so what that’s doing is it’s teaching the engine what resonates with you. Now, the next piece of this is, much as Drew’s engine does, we help schools understand they’ve purchased all these systems like predictive analytics and early alerts platform. And those tell you Nat: Those are systems to try and keep students engaged and on track

Karan: Right Drew: Ideally. Usually, it’s just telling you which ones are like a fail Nat: That’s right. So, we have identified them Karan: So, it’s like you went to the doctor, and the doctor hands you your CBC results and says, “Your HDL is too high and good luck.” That’s basically what those engines do, is that they tell you, “This person has a problem, and here’s the problem.” It doesn’t tell you why that problem exists and it doesn’t give you a path to fixing it. So, GetSet is really focused on both of those things. The first is the why. So, because students are writing all these things that they’re encountering at school, our natural language processing engine is continually looking at what’s trending So, earlier today, I spoke about an example of a school that said, “We really wish we had GetSet last year.” They’re doing it now But they said, “We had an issue with parking and we had… We’re an urban campus. Everyone is a commuter. There are no dorms. Everyone drives to school. And we didn’t realize that all these faculty members scheduled classes the same time and a bunch of students couldn’t find parking and dropped out because they were tired of getting $150 tickets.” Nat: So, you’re telling me that it is parking tickets that was contributing to a spike and non-completion at an urban university Karan: At a very specific lo Nat: At a time and place Karan: Yeah Nat: It could be preventable Karan: Right. Because the school had no understanding that this parking was an issue. If they’d had our engine at that time, they could have seen that parking is a trending term. And the sentiment on parking is 95% negative So, we also do sentiment analysis on any given term. So, you can see, wait, this used to be very positive, but all of a sudden students have become very negative on it Nat: Your engine can identify pain points Karan: Right Drew: It’s worth noting that in higher ed, like, the number one reason people tend to leave a school is because they say, “No one is listening to me. No one cares about me.” Karan: “I don’t feel connected.” Drew: “I don’t feel connected. I don’t feel connected to other people, peers or staff.” And if you don’t feel connected, why would you stay, I mean, in anything? And so, fundamentally, I think what you’re getting at and what we get at is an opportunity to change the dynamic so that schools can listen at scale rather than merely broadcast messaging at scale They’re not that great and powerful laws anymore Nat: Yeah. It’s really interesting. So, when I was talking earlier with Marc, I said, you know, “Let’s talk a little bit about the buckets, the reasons,” because we were sort of focusing on why kids don’t complete. Numbers of non-completers are way too high. So, how do you bring those down? And I think that the knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Well, college is expensive. It must be expense or it’s the academics.” They just can’t hack it. It sounds like you’re tackling a different set of problems that you think are more central to the non-completers Drew: Well, let’s just get at that problem I think that, unfortunately, it’s popular in the media and perhaps in Silicon Valley to say college isn’t worth it, blah, blah, blah. First of all, all the data says that no. If you compare OECD countries, you will find the United States has one of the highest income boosts from getting a college degree versus others. And you can argue, you know, whatever the reasons for that are, but that’s the factual matrix of the situation. And in Silicon Valley it may be popular to say everyone can be a software engineer and just write code and you don’t need to go to college, but Nat: Most of them have BAs Drew: Yeah. I mean, look, college is the single most reliable vehicle for social change that’s ever existed. If you wanna change your station, go to college Karan: Totally Nat: Well, complete college Drew: Complete college Nat: Right? Drew: Yes, you’re right, cliche Karan: I mean, we talk about the student loan crisis, 80% of people that are not able to pay back their loans are people who dropped out, right? So, you’ve spent this money and you don’t have the credential, you don’t have this thing that’s a path to your social mobility but now you’ve got all this debt. So, I think it’s imperative that we help people complete school. And I think that gets to the… There’s the why. So, what are they struggling with? So, the NCES data says that only 12% of students who drop out in their first year of college are failing a single course. So, that’s one reason to believe that academics are not the primary reason. The second one is I view financial as a cop-out answer, which is, if a school asked a student, “Why did you leave?” financial is the easy answer to give because, you know, we’re sitting here with this book that says “The Tyranny of Clichés.” The cliché is “College is expensive.” Okay Nat: The go-to answer, right? Karan: Right. And so it doesn’t actually show you why the student left. And if you think about the fact that 50% of students are leaving, essentially, in the first academic term or the second academic term, people generally have a decent feeling of their financial situation in that time. And if we’re hearing that answer in the time of, like, one of the longest economic expansions in history with, like, lowest rates of unemployment, again, I’m sure there are people that are leaving for financial reasons, but there’s so many other reasons. “I didn’t make any friends. It was really hard to commute to school. I have a five-year-old screaming at home. How do I balance child care with working and going to school?” Nat: I have had that problem. That’s a real problem Karan: So, I think there are so many other issues. So, we’re not saying that our solutions are suddenly going to take our nationwide graduation rate from 50 to 100% Nat: Sure Karan: These aren’t silver bullets, but there’s no reason that each of us can’t add five or

seven percentage points to a school’s completion rate Nat: Both of you talked about sort of different ways where you’re helping schools listen You’re taking questions in AdmitHub and you’re giving answers, but that’s not all you’re doing. You’re not just trying to connect students so they can talk to each other. You’re actually gleaning information about students that otherwise you wouldn’t know. So, what’s the hope that schools can use that information to do? Drew: Well, first, they have to change their mindset that they can do it. That’s number one, because quite honestly, you’re presenting them a future that they never could have possibly imagined, that students would do the hard work of advisors on their behalf for that, a robot is capable of having a conversation like this at scale. And oddly enough, I think it’s just reconciling themselves with the reality of the audience and the technology change that’s happening. Oddly enough, when students talk to us, we have them in focus groups, they say, “I felt better about asking the bot the question than to a person because I didn’t want to be judged by a person.” And our philosophy is to try to make it easier to get help than to avoid getting help. And often, like, the cry for help is with their thumbs into a smartphone and it’s barely a whisper. And if you can capture that and give them a reference, either escalate it to a person on staff or give them a story of a student who succeeded in their shoes in the past, like, it can be transformative. Again, it’s not gonna solve all the problems, but the truth of the matter is, there’s no silver bullet for any of this stuff. It’s just the relentless pursuit of all available options and knowing that every person is different, but we’re all fundamentally the same, which is a strange way to think about it Karan: So, you know, in our engine because students are actually writing these stories to their peers, there are a variety of levels of engagement, right? So, the most you can learn about a student is when they write their own story. They say, “You know what? I moved from five states away, I’m here, I feel totally out of place. This is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in by an order of magnitude. I don’t get along with people here. I’m just really struggling.” That’s one level. One level below that is commenting. So, I read Drew’s story about feeling out of place and I’m like, “Oh, me too, man. I’m from a town of 6,000 people. This campus has 60,000 people, like, forget the city.” And then there’s a level below that, which is just searching I’m just searching, feel out of place at the school And what’s interesting is, you know, we don’t wanna just reveal to schools that this is the issue, this is the why. We actually are the intervention too. So, our notion is that if you’re worried about anything… So, as Drew was saying, right, schools are asking their students to do all these things. It’s not rocket science, what it takes to graduate college, right? Study hard, form good relationships, ask your instructors for help when you’re stuck, make sure you start looking at career opportunities early. Don’t wait till three weeks before summer break. All of those things These are all the things that we say, “Well, the good students already know how to do this, and the students from families where maybe both mom and dad have a master’s degree, they already know how to do this.” So, how do we help the students that don’t necessarily know these things or know them in the back of their heads, but they feel like, “Well, that’s what other people do. I don’t know if… Am I capable of this?” And so the notion behind GetSet is that if we can share the right story with you, so we can wait for you to come to the community and say, “I’m struggling with this.” But if we know the school wants all their students to join the study group, go meet with a career advisor, well, we can push stories from people that we think you will relate to. Remember I was saying that, you know, one of you guys likes long stories, one of you likes ones that are really to the point. As well, we know that there are 12 stories about going to meet a career advisor. Which of those 12 stories is going to resonate with each of you most and is going to help shape your behavior? So, for that example, about searching. So, for example, many schools will see a big spike in things like anxiety and stress right before final exams. That’s a great opportunity to say, “Well, I know I have 325 students that are searching for stress. Let me send them a story about how students de-stressed before final exams.” And it’s the opportunity to kind of take something that’s not ready to be verbalized and to kind of get ahead of it and prevent it from becoming a big problem Nat: Yeah. I can imagine that the natural reaction for a lot of folks, if they heard, “Well, I wanna talk a little bit about college completion with these two tech guys,” is they’re like, “Oh, you wanna replace counselors and advisors with bots. That’s your idea.” And I know that that is not your idea, but it sounds to me like what you actually are able to do is allow institutions to use the resources that they are already deploying, but do it multiple times better because they have more information Drew: Well, sometimes not deploying even deliberately, right? The student body, for instance, is such a powerful community, I think, the most powerful untapped community in the whole ecosystem It’s certainly the largest. But let’s talk for a second about the reality of… We’ve

talked very generally. I mean, I went to public school. And, gosh, I got to college and I was like so overwhelmed. I even had my doubts And look, I have had all affordances in my life. Caucasian male from an upper-middle-class family. And even there, I was, like, “Oh, can I hack it?” Now, I wasn’t going to drop out, but I certainly had my doubts. Now, my business partner, on the other hand, he was the first person in his family to go to college Not only that, when he got admitted and said he was going to college, it wasn’t that his family didn’t know about it, they actively gave him a hard time and said, “Oh, you’re gonna leave us? You think you’re better than us?” And so, you know, I think you said this, like, creating a space to be vulnerable, to be real, and to not feel judged and alone It sounds a lot easier than it is. And you’re not gonna solve it with tech, but I think tech can be at least a spark, is fundamentally the way I think about it Nat: Yeah, it’s interesting and it’s a compelling story, but I sort of trust the data on these things. I’m sure you guys can understand that Have you been able to show that you can increase retention rates, other sort of procedural things that show progress for students using your platforms? Karan: Yes and yes. We’ve run randomized controlled trials. There’s one highly publicized one that we did at Georgia State, which was our first partner, PS for entrepreneurs out there, RCT for your first partner, recipe for sleepless nights and gray hair. But it worked out. So, luckily for us, and for the hundreds of students who enrolled who wouldn’t have otherwise We’re committed, quite honestly, to rigorous research. I don’t wanna waste my time doing something that I’m not certain works, but you also get to experiment and be relentless Drew: I’m gonna give a shout out to a competitor school. Arizona State was the first person to take a chance on us four years ago. I think they’re one in two in the country with ASU number one in innovation Karan: Oh, yes. Yeah. So, look, I mean, I think it’s important to prove out what you’re doing, but it’s also important to have a core scientific basis for what you’re doing, much like what Drew has. And so for us, there’s a ton of research that social proof is incredibly important in guiding our behavior, right? Like, we can hear a celebrity tell us something, but someone that’s relevant, relatable to us. So, ours is really built on decades of research to say that that works. And we’re just leveraging technology to do it at scale, to do it much more efficiently and much more cheaply. So, our range is 4% to 8% point gain in first term retention. Most of our clients have reported the highest ever retention they’ve had, lowest ever number of students on academic probation Nat: Right. So, you’re getting traction Drew: Well, the interesting thing is neither of us is inventing the wheel either. Like, there is a whole world of behavioral economics and behavior change research that is really just beginning to blossom. And, quite honestly, the ability to deploy it at scale is now at our fingertips and is only a matter of our imagination to try and figure out new ways of doing so. It is the dawn of an era that is exciting. It can also be potentially used for ill, but if you have powerful tools in the hands of the right people, they can do amazing things with it Nat: Well, guys, thanks for coming on the podcast and talking to us about how bots and social networks can come in and help college completion. Who would have thought? Karan: Thank you for having us Drew: Thank you Nat: Thanks for listening to the Report Card And special thanks to our guests, Marc Jerome, Drew Magliozzi, and Karan Goel. This podcast wouldn’t be possible without our fantastic team of producers that includes Sofia Gallo, Cody Christensen, Macy Heath, and Gage Hurley You can subscribe to “The Report Card” on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast player. And if you enjoyed this episode, please give us a rating and review on iTunes and Google. It helps other folks find the show. If you have comments, questions, or topic suggestions, for future episodes, you can reach out at [email protected] Until next time, I’m Nat Malkus