Can a new on-line learning company make the grade?
60-Second Business Plan
The pitch: George W. Bush may have coined the phrase "No Child Left Behind," but Baxter T. Brings intends to make good -- and good money -- on the pledge.
His two-year-old company, Advanced Academics Inc., provides on-line course work for tough-to-teach students: those who are at risk for not graduating, those who live in rural areas, those who are homeschooled, and even those who are overachievers. By 2005, says Brings, 2.9 million students will fall into such categories. That translates into a $19-billion market, given that, on average, states spend $6,584 per public high school student per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. "Ours is a rapidly growing segment in the K-12 space because it's new," says Brings, who serves as Advanced Academics' president and CEO. "And with the newness comes a lot of opportunity."
The Oklahoma City company offers 60 accredited courses in subjects ranging from Spanish to biology (think virtual-frog dissection) to students in the 12 states with educational policies that are most hospitable to on-line instruction. The company plans to expand to at least 15 more states by 2007. Advanced Academics isn't alone in the field; Brings cites six on-line learning companies as competitors.
What puts Advanced Academics at the head of the class, Brings believes, is its business and revenue models. "A lot of private companies compete with the public-education market, and that's the opposite of what we do," he says. "We supplement what the public-education market is doing."
To that end, the company, with its 52 employees, forms partnerships with school districts, which largely determine the contracts' terms, including how many students will participate and which courses will be offered. The company's fee ($335 per student per course) comes out of the average daily attendance funding that states allocate to their school districts (an average of $500 per student per course). The $165 difference between what the districts take in and what they dish out to Advanced Academics goes straight to the schools' coffers.
The system is designed to appeal to administrators. Though Advanced Academics develops all the courses itself, students log on to Web sites that frequently bear the district's name. Also, curricula can be customized to meet district standards. And the system monitors students automatically, which allows teachers, schools, and parents to keep track of what their pupils are studying in real time. Brings also provides students with 24-7 access to a team of Advanced Academics instructors -- 20 teachers and 7 teaching assistants -- by means of live chat, E-mail, and phone. True, the student-teacher ratio of 250 to 1 is no improvement over Any Town High, but Brings insists it's vastly superior. "We don't teach a class, we teach a student," he asserts. "Because it's round-the-clock, we actually touch the kids more than kids are touched in the classroom."
BUSINESS CLASS: Baxter T. Brings's company is working with schools to post course work on-line.