On a micro level, education is very simply about helping students learn the concepts and knowledge they need to know. When you zoom out from that small focus and start to look at the methods, products, debates, issues, and infrastructure that are all focused on this one goal, the sheer size and complexity of the education industry quickly becomes clear.
The education industry is not only huge; it’s also undergoing more changes recently than it has at possibly at any other point in history. Startups are sprouting to fill in gaps and create new technologies to service this increasingly lucrative field. Their contributions, coupled with innovative new ideas about what the average classroom can (and should) look like, are re-shaping what learning means for kids around the country.
In the interest of providing a partial snapshot of how all this is playing out, we’ve collected some notable information and statistics that speak to what’s going on in the world of education today.
NPR recently reported that enrollment in teacher training courses is decreasing at a troubling rate in many states around the country. This image from edweek shows that many of the largest states are losing future teachers by the tens of thousands. Teaching has long been regarded as a profession where the pay doesn’t match the amount of work and effort expected. On top of that, in recent years teachers have often found themselves the target of criticisms around tax spending and test scores, and many teachers around the country were laid off due to budget cuts.
As a result, college students who may have otherwise considered becoming teachers started to see the job as a risky profession to pursue. Current teachers will probably face a continued increase in class sizes as a result of the shortage. Ideally, having fewer teachers to pay would at least mean an increase in salary to those already employed, but considering the political landscape that’s likely to be a hard sell in many districts
Close to 50 million students are currently enrolled in public schools in the United States, according to the Institute of Education Statistics. 3.1 million full-time teachers are employed, making the pupil-to-teacher ratio sixteen. All told, the amount of public money spent on education comes to $619 billion, which breaks out to about $12,000 per student.
The socioeconomic statuses of our students reflects some of the larger problems affecting the nation, as 51% of students come from families considered to be low income. These students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program and are often concentrated in certain cities and states.
Now for some good news. The percentage of students earning a diploma has started to go up. Over 3 million students are expected to graduate this year. The dropout rate has decreased by around 5% since 2000, and 66% of high school graduates are expected to move on to college right after graduation, joining the 21 million students already attending colleges in the country.
While tuition rates continue to go up, students in college are finding savings in one area. The $4.3 billion textbook industry has been challenged by cheap rentals and open-access textbooks.
Startups like Boundless and Flat World Knowledge make use of content in the creative commons to create textbooks that can serve as alternatives to the more expensive options students are assigned. While Chegg and CampusBookRentals.com have found successful business models in renting out textbooks to students at affordable rates. While the cost of textbooks from traditional publishers goes up, the amount the average student spends on course materials is going down.
As we’ve previously reported, over a third of all higher education students are taking at least one of their courses online, and more than 12% are enrolled in online courses exclusively. The nation’s students are making it clear that they’re comfortable with online learning.
Teachers, for their part, are still largely unconvinced. Many are slowly coming around to the idea of online courses, but only 26% think that the courses can produce the same level of results as teacher-led courses. Those who have actually taught an online course have a more positive view of online learning’s potential, which suggests that as their numbers grow, more teachers will come to accept the idea. And their numbers will grow, 68% of the professors in that same survey said their institution plans to increase online offerings.
According to GeekWire, 2014 was a record year for investment in education technology companies, reaching around or over $2 billion (depending on your source). The SXSWedu conference keeps growing and news of new startups in the industry getting high-dollar investments just keeps coming.
Looking at which companies in the industry are getting the most funding can give us a glimpse into what the market thinks is to come. Based on some of the winners for 2015 so far, one trend is clear: online learning is the horse everyone’s betting on.
Three of the businesses getting the most attention from investors are all in the online learning space:
These are some of the biggest issues influencing the education industry today, but the list is far from comprehensive. 2015’s already been a big year for education and promises to continue to be in the second half. While the money flowing into education companies in the business sector often feels distant from the challenges facing teachers in public classrooms day by day, both sides of the industry can tell us a lot about what’s happening in education, and what’s coming.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally written by Katie Lepi and ran on April 6, 2014. A lot has changed since then, so we’ve had author Kristen Hicks update this piece with the latest techniques and innovations.