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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Lead Story–Adults Take the Online

Web Site Directs Students to Educational Resources

eff Creighton says his company, EduPoint.com, will do for the continuing education field what airline ticket portal Travelocity has done for the travel industry.

Just as purchasing airline tickets from the Internet is becoming commonplace, so too will finding and purchasing adult education classes become by tapping into the Web, he said.

“If we can do this, we will change the way continuing education courses are purchased throughout the United States, and all parties , corporations, consumers and the providers of the classes , will win,” Creighton said.

The Solana Beach-based Internet start-up just launched its Web site last month, and while still refining its business, it’s already made believers of at least one group of investors. Last July, San Diego-based venture capital group Enterprise Partners infused $4.5 million into the firm.

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Ric Erdman, EduPoint’s president, said the company should close a second round of venture capital financing of $20 million within 45 days. Further down the road, perhaps the end of this year, EduPoint plans to go public.

“This is an incredibly big undertaking that we’re doing here and that’s why we’ll have a couple of hundred people working here by the end of the year,” Erdman said. “We are attacking a half-trillion-dollar marketplace.”

– Continuing Ed

A Growing Industry

The marketplace Erdman refers to is staggering in scope, and growing daily. According to one study, the adult or continuing education industry, including the sale of classes, videos, tapes, and all manner of vocational training, reached some $330 billion in the United States last year.

In today’s fast-paced, technology-altered world, taking classes geared to improving and developing job skills, or going to class simply for the joy of learning, has become commonplace in this country, Creighton said.

“About 40 percent of adults in the United States are enrolled in some sort of continuing education classes at any one time during the year,” he said. “And it’s growing at six times the rate as traditional education.”

The explosion of learning is being driven by a number of factors, not the least of which is the economy’s shift to high-tech industries that didn’t exist a decade or even five years ago.

Colleges, community colleges and training companies are all attempting to fill critical gaps in teaching people new skills and to provide the training quickly, Creighton said.

Instead of spending years taking classes leading to a college degree, many workers are taking short-term, certificate programs, many of which are offered by producers of the new technology.

– Software Giants

Offer Training

Thus, technology software giants such as Microsoft, Novell and Cisco Systems offer training involving their products. “Corporations are using the training as a way to evangelize their products,” Creighton said.

In addition to specialized vocational training, many companies offer full and partial tuition reimbursement to their employees as a regular benefit.

In Boeing Co.’s Southern California region alone, 9,300 employees took at least one adult education class last year, said Andrew Thomsen, business analyst for Boeing’s Learning Together program.

Boeing paid the full cost for all the classes, whether these had some relation to the workers’ job or not, Thomsen said.

“Ultimately, our hope is a better-educated work force should provide us with bottom-line improvements, even if the education is not directly related to their task,” Thomsen said. “Overall, it makes them a much more well-rounded person, and therefore, more valuable to us.”

Boeing is among a group of large corporate customers using EduPoint’s Internet service. By providing EduPoint’s search engine on the companies’ internal Web sites, or noting it in employee newsletters, workers can find the classes they want, and register for them, all within a few minutes. The engine asks the user’s ZIP code, and gives out a list of classes within that area.

– Web Site Gives

Class Information

EduPoint’s site contains not only a description of the class, where it’s offered, the date, times and cost for the class, but connections to advisers who can provide specific answers about a course’s content.

When a person registers for the class via EduPoint’s site, it receives a percentage of the tuition from the educational provider. The site is free for the user. Erdman says the fee varies according to the type of course, but averages about 10 percent.

EduPoint has a database of about 1.5 million classes, certificates, degrees and vocational training programs in the country, although at the moment registration is limited to about 30,000 of these classes, most of which are in California, Erdman said.

The company is negotiating with all manner of educational providers, but already has agreements with some of the area’s largest and most respected universities, including USD, USC, SDSU, UCLA, and the California Institute of Technology.

Compiling the thousands of different classes, updating this information and posting the data on EduPoint’s site is a mammoth project, one that requires millions of dollars and an increasing number of employees.

From an initial group of three employees at the time EduPoint obtained its venture capital investment last year, the company has grown to nearly 60 employees. The jobs being created by the company are marketing and sales people, customer service, engineers and technicians, and support personnel, Erdman said.

– Projected Revenue

Sounds Impressive

As is true of many Internet companies, EduPoint probably won’t be profitable for at least two years, but its projected revenue stream sounds impressive.

This year, revenues should be $20 million, and by the end of next year it should hit $200 million, Erdman said.

While there are other firms providing similar services as EduPoint, none are doing it on this scale, say the company’s top executives.

Other sites are focused on either the seminar/training market, or on distance learning, but EduPoint’s site is about 20 times larger than anything currently available, Erdman said. “They’re aggregating only a small piece (of the market) and we are wrapping our arms around them,” he said, referring to cross-selling arrangements the companies have.

Erdman said the revenue projections aren’t overachieving dreams. An average Fortune 500 company spends “tens of millions of dollars every year” on continuing education and certificate courses for their employees.

Then there is the undeniable shift in the way retailing and purchasing goods occurs. The emergence of the Internet, and such popular sites as Amazon.com, eBay and Travelocity has changed the buying patterns of consumers, he said.

– Career Changes

More Common

Another driving factor aiding EduPoint’s business is the changing way adults are living. No longer is it uncommon for people to have two, three or more career changes in their lives. Making these career shifts usually requires learning new skills, or improving existing ones, Erdman said.

One of the reasons this nation’s economy is doing so well, and doing well on a global scale, is that “we’ve got people who are learning all the time.”

“All this technology is great, but if people don’t know how to use it, or create it, it’s not going to keep moving along,” he said.

The attitude embedded in many citizens is that they want to continue learning and expanding their horizons, he said.

EduPoint’s mission is to make finding those classes easier, quicker and ultimately, a profitable venture in the process.


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