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Building a New Bridge to College with OnlineDegree’s Grant Aldrich

March 17, 2020

Make College More Affordable…For Free.

Grant Aldrich is the Founder and CEO of OnlineDegree.com.

OnlineDegree.com empowers millions of Americans to become whatever they want to be…tuition-free.  They’ve decided on a bold path to look outside of the tuition paradigm to ensure no one is excluded from participating. OnlineDegree.com is enabling everyone to take the critical first step towards full-time education at a university.

Learn more about how OnlineDegree.com can help you jumpstart your college education by listening to this episode of The Thoughtful Entrepreneur above and don’t forget to subscribe on   Apple Podcasts – Stitcher – Spotify –Google Play –Castbox – TuneIn – RSS.

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Welcome to The Thoughtful Entrepreneur Show. I'm Josh Elledge, Founder and CEO of UpMyInfluence.com. We turn entrepreneurs into media celebrities, grow their authority, and help them build partnerships with top influencers. We believe that every person has a unique message that can positively impact the world. stick around to the end of the show, where I'll reveal how you can be our next guest on one of the fastest growing daily inspiration podcasts on the planet in 15 to 20 minutes. Let's go.

With us right now we've got Grant Aldrich, and Grant you're the CEO and Founder of OnlineDegree.com. Full disclosure, I am a raving fan of what you're doing simply because of my background as a consumer expert and advocate and as someone who is a parent of a college student, and two more kids that are getting ready to knock on that door. Love what you're doing. Okay, so there's my intro. Do you like that? That's the best intro I've ever had. Thank you.

And I share. I've got three small children. And I'm trying to think to myself, how am I going to pay for all this?

Yeah, well listen, you're making the world a better place for your own kids and of course, a college students around the country. So we're going to talk about that. So I guess to begin with people are probably like, what is it? My gosh, Josh, come on. So grant, explain to us what online degree is online, online degree calm, by the way?

Correct. So in 60 seconds, anyone can get started, take and register without any interviews, no entrance exams, get started taking college level courses. And when they take those college level courses, they can get credit towards their degree at universities across the country, completely free.

Like which colleges are going to do that.

We've got I mean, you'd be surprised I mean, this private schools, state schools, top schools, I mean, it's incredible the response that we've been getting and the pathways that we've been creating. But yeah, all of this we do for free a student can come on. And really, the whole goal is to lower the cost of college and make it more accessible for everyone. That's the mission behind the organization. And so, you know, we do that and we've made this whole system to, you know, remove all the pediments that normally stops someone from going back to college.

So I'm on your website right now onlinedegree.com, and I see that there are 15 classes to choose from, how many of these could I can I take,

you can take as many as you'd like. And that's the beauty of it. So all the courses can come on the free tag. And normally what we do is we when people start get started, we try to help them also plan a path towards college. So in this case, we would say okay, so you know, Josh, given what you're looking to do, what your goals are, you know, what would be that good school. Let's say we We come up with like an excellent big state school, right, let's say Colorado State, just as an example, we would then help you map out all the courses that you could take towards your degree to save a substantial amount. And then above and beyond that, we go out and organize discounts towards those universities. So when you get started, you also save there. So all in all, you can save up to 40% on the cost of a degree from home, on your own time at your own pace.

So okay, so my brain is going okay, well, how can you afford to do college classes for free because college classes cost a lot of money to put on you got to pay a teacher professor. And, you know, there's going to be grading all these essays and all this other stuff. How does it work?

Yeah, we've completely changed the whole model, right? Because like, just to your point, the standard model has always been the student pays tuition. And because I want to make this accessible to everybody, and to make it so that anybody could take that first step back to college, it had to be free. So the way that we've done this, this is pretty disruptive in the space is that the universities pay and sponsor the platform. And so someone might say, well, how is that possible? So yeah, the student, and it's all paid for by the universities. And the reason is, is because obviously, the benefit for a student is probably intuitive, right? Oh, you get to save money, you save time. It's like your own schedule, all those things. The universities benefit as well, because for a university, one of the big problems that they have is finding good students who are well prepared when they enroll, to go to school, and who are motivated to finish their degree. And our platform inherently helps achieve that because the students who come on they get to start using a modern learning management system, which is the software where you take your courses, you begin to prove that you can be successful in online format, which believe me, you can we help prepare them for what it's like to learn in a virtual classroom. So they love it and they sponsor the entire

I am still like you are a great you either a really great salesperson, or, again, what you're saying is absolutely true that you can convince a college to give away classes for free. And you've been able to share a kind of paint a vision for them that this solves a major pain point for them. I can't imagine how busy you've been up into up until the launch, like how did you do all of this?

I used to be very tan, and I'm not.

You pretty much live in the dungeon.


It is it's been an incredible effort. And yeah, you know, what we do is So to your point, we produced all the courses and through a lot of our academic advisory board and our Academic Team and we we use some open source content. And then what we do is we work with universities to articulate and accept the courses. So for them, it's even better you need to give us the content. I mean, we've already produced the content you've just Got to believe in what we're doing, and accept the courses for credit. And that's what we've been so busy doing. And so, yeah, it's been incredible. Three years, I mean, two years to get it off the ground. And we've been up in lives since July of 2018. And it's just been a roller coaster ever since.

So, I mean, what are the classes? Like? Is it is it all just automated? Where there's just the D exams or multiple choice tests? Or do you actually have classes where people are actually writing and somehow you have a professor or someone that's actually grading that work?

Yeah, great question. So the courses are super interesting stuff, right? we've focused on stuff that real adults want to go back and learn and that are conducive to the new jobs and skill sets that we're going to need to know. So a great example we've got an introduction to robotics course. That's fascinating introduction to computer science, Introduction to accounting, so all introductory so you don't have to have any prior experience. Very informative stuff that's going to give you great skills for no matter what career focus degree you get. And all the courses were created by our professors. And they're all online, and everything is self paced. So it's all pre recorded lectures, and all of the exercises and everything you take, it's all in your time, which is, which is by design, because as a working adult, you don't have time, or you're in your schedule to drive down Oh Community College, sitting class, leave your daily life, your job, and your kids and then go home. And it's just it's not conducive. And so the model and I think what's so innovative, what we've done is know anybody, it doesn't matter what your schedule is, doesn't matter how much time you have come in when you've got 30 minutes while you're cooking, watch a lecture. And then when you're done great tomorrow, maybe you got an hour at night, take watch another lecture, and you just walk through and march through at your own time. Everything is completely automated. So we have a couple weeks Got some quizzes, we got a final exam you take, which is again, you know, it's you know, people actually love taking it because it's all part of what you learned in the course. And it's all on your time.

Yeah. So again, what I guess, you know, looking back at the past couple years, what do you what have you spent the majority of your time doing as the founder and CEO?

I think that every thing every other entrepreneur would appreciate, right? You wear so many hats. You know, yesterday, I was the janitor. And then, you know, today I'm speaking and interfacing with the schools. So as a result, I've had to wear a lot of hats. But I would say that the predominantly a lot of the work has really changed in phases. So initially, it was the course development, right, because you have to work on your core offering for students and that took an immense amount of time because to not only build the courses, to get them to, to get a lot of third party verification and approval the courses so that universities would accept them for credit. It's a massive undertaking, but then after that, It's really then gone into adoption, right? Because what we've created is so valuable for the estimated 40 million people who are not taking that first step towards college. And for all of the universities who are so desperate to get better students. So now really, I've just become chief evangelist. I got to be out there and just telling people about

who's the first school that you brought online. And what was that conversation like? And, and when they said, All right, we'll do it. You're probably like, Yeah,

well, that was hard. Yeah. Cuz I mean, think about this when the first school that that came on, was we didn't have anything up and ready yet. This was all the concept phase. And he said, I

just selling air.

It was a little bit past that. Yeah, right. Right. Right. I'm not that good. You give me Right, right. And so we were, we were at that we were already developing our courses, but nothing had been like I couldn't show them anything. Right. I have to say this is a testament to some of the most innovative schools that are out there. It was Southern New Hampshire University. Which is an amazing school. It's a nonprofit. They're one of the largest schools in the country. And their leadership team got it. They said, Wow, what you're doing is innovative. And it's gonna it's going to be a bridge to get back to school for millions of Americans, we want it and they were the first school to be part of it. It was because again, you've got an industry that is as slow moving and bureaucratic, as you can imagine. And but there are a lot of schools that are doing some very innovative stuff, that's thought.

Yeah. So I mean, to do all this, it feels like a business where you've probably had to self fund quite a bit or acquire capital or I don't know, how was the money side of all this worked?

Yeah, so I, I was lucky. And then my prior life, I've exited a couple startups. And which, after after which I was sitting around thinking, you know, what's the big mission I want to do which led to the genesis of OnlineDegree. And so I was which is dangerous. Because then you you you sell fun for a big part of it right when maybe you should go get investors, but I believe in the model so much. And I know, based on my prior experience, I just didn't want to go the, you know, big institutional funding round. I didn't want to do it right. So I was able to fund it for a good part of the way and then I brought on a number of angel investors who provide us kind of a pre seed round. Yeah, sure. And I'm sorry.

Oh, yeah, go ahead.

Oh, yeah, sorry. And so then they got us, you know, the next part of the way and basically with that funding, it's taken us all the way until now, which is incredible because normally you got to go proceed the next six months you find next season, but you're in this never ending cycle but the reality is, is that we were making money while benefiting everybody from this from the get go.

And and so I guess Can you kind of explain, if you don't mind like, how does the business work? Like where does OnlineDegree make its money? I mean, is it when A student finally enrolls officially with a particular University and there's kind of a referral fee for that, or how does it where I'm just guessing?

No, it's a good question. It's similar to that it's a little bit more complicated because you have to be, we don't just provide one service to the schools, we provide this very large bundle of services we provide to the schools. But essentially, that's it like the model the way I wanted to do it was okay. we align everybody's interests. People want to go back to school students want to create good you know, what better students and they want to retain those students. So our business model has to fit all of that, right, that key, that key point? So yeah, we work with the universities on a on basically a tuition share basis, so that when students do enroll, we provide all of these services to them for those students that that have enrolled. So for them so basically, the just being that when a student comes on, and this was important We're completely students centric, when our interest is finding that student the best possible pathway, so when they come on, we say, look, there are hundreds of schools that you can go to. And we make money no matter where you go. That's how we can provide this for free. But it's not in our interest to send you in a particular direction. We want to get you to the best place. And that's also what the universities understand as well, which is why it's so cool. So if I go to you and let's say Josh, you you're you're you run a university, you have to put up a big marketing spent will have to do any of that. We only work with you for students that are a good fit. And then we bring this whole host of services to help you were the student. Now after they're enrolled, we helped you retain them. We help you learn and provide research on what's going on. It's just a model that is so different and totally works.

Amazing. Amazing. Thank you. Alright, so I guess as a business are you looking at I mean, what what is growth for you in like, where does growth come from? And where does Where do revenues and profits come from and kind of what you're aiming for, obviously, you're in it for the impact because you're you're definitely doing a, an amazing social good. But also you want to make sure that this business grow and thrive, be profitable, and, of course, reach more and more people.

Yeah, so my idea of the growth is that we become v platform as a modern alternative to the Community College, where now when you come on, there's all of these like, I'm looking at it from a consumer standpoint, that there's all these schools that are offering so many benefits, discounts, opportunities for me to take courses and save money before I enroll and get my feet wet. Where that there's no that were the pathway of going TO to that first step to college. And the reason I make the comparison the community colleges that, you know, obviously today we looked at community college and those systems in place but they just as a government institution, they have not kept up with the modern times, nor will they ever get to Because ultimately, they're expensive. They're taxpayer funded, you know, their government entities. So when things change, they're not always able to keep it up to date. And in a world that we live in today, where things rapidly increase and rapidly changed, it'll never be the case. So this is the this is I'm trying to create something that's far better, right? We've made it more accessible online anywhere. Really focusing on the customer experience, getting you more help getting you more discounts when you do enroll, that far surpassed that and that to me is the is the end game.

Brilliant, right? Listen, grid, if you haven't, if you haven't been able to tell them kind of fanboying right now because I I love what you're doing, again, for a number of reasons. I think of, you know, the, the, you know, the parents that are struggling financially and they're like, Listen, I'm you know, it's just gonna be Nothing but student loans and more loans and more loans and more loans for our kids to realize, you know, which is it's, it's becoming less and less optional to get advanced education today. If you want a, you know, a traditional job route, you know, most of the growth in in, in the economy, you know, earn higher ed, you know, demand higher education and high school education. It's like, Look, it's it's tough, I mean, unless you want to go the entrepreneurial route and get, you know, like, like I said, You know, I still get my college degree I don't I don't use it, but I'm thankful I'm thankful I added, but you know, for my kids, you know, I, you know, I think this is just wonderful. They can kind of, you know, if nothing else, they can experience you know, college level classes and not have to even They can be, I guess, they don't have to be a particular age. Do they have to be like a minimum age to start taking these classes? Yeah,

currently it's 18. But, but we're actually working on low removing that because of just a huge outpouring of people who are currently in high school who want to take the course of the store working on it. But you know, you're right, that that is it, the student debt crisis is real, has become so outrageous. And it's not just for the students, people have to realize that this touches the entire economy, because if you've got someone who's got, you know, let's say I'm nervous about student debt, well, they're not going to be able to mortgage or buy a home and afford a mortgage, which means that your house property doesn't go up. And they can't spend more money in the car and the economy on other consumer goods for your business. It's a real effect. And to your point, right now, globalization, robot automation, all of these things are going to have even a greater impact on the jobs and so there is a real Crunch from the macro side that people have to upskill and get new skills to be competitive in today's market. So you're right. All of these things are really big deal that we really want to help people and of course, bring the cost back into balance, because I don't think anybody would argue that a college degree is I mean, study after study shows, it will benefit you in that hiring process. But the cost benefit has just become so out of whack with the cost. And so we're just trying to bring that cost ROI back in balance, so it's more affordable for everybody.

Awesome. All right, Grant Aldrich here, the Founder and CEO of OnlineDegree at onlinedegree.com. Thank you so much for joining us. Hey, thank you for having me, Josh.

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