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Podium Education Raises $12M to Help Colleges Offer For-Credit Tech Programs

With the labor market and college campuses reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of new online learning platforms teaching in-demand tech skills to undergraduates comes at a fortuitous time.

That’s the case for the builders of these tools as well, like Podium Education . Since launching at the start of 2020, the Austin, Texas-based startup has partnered with over 20 colleges and more than 1,000 students. And announced $ 12 million in Series A funding.

Podium’s premise is simple: offer online classes, with sophisticated design and production, taught by leading experts in technology fields that are attractive to companies hiring in the modern jobs market. It aims to equip all students, regardless of academic focus, with digital competencies.

“We believe that soft skills plus hard skills create the talents that the workplace demands,” said Brooks Morgan, Podium Education co-founder and CEO. “Whatever your passion is, whatever it is that you are going to try and do in this world, do it with the skills that will get you a better job within your field.”

This funding round is led by Sid Krommenhoek at Album VC and Zander Rafael at Spring Tide Capital, with Firework Ventures, Degreed, Learn Capital, Goldcrest Capital, CampusLogic and 137 Ventures also participating. Podium will use the funds to offer more classes, at more colleges, Morgan said.

Podium class content is produced in-house, with prestigious teaching talent and glossy video production creating a product that resembles the offerings of other online teaching platforms like Masterclass. The company has invested heavily in content. Teaching materials include datasets from Netflix, Spotify and Lime Scooters for student use.

But unlike other competitors that cater to general consumers, Podium aims to deliver courses within the traditional university environment. Students meet weekly in a virtual setting with other members of their campus community to take classes.

Offering a program that is supplementary to existing undergraduate programs is a key difference between Podium and rival online educators, Morgan said. Podium classes can be taken for credit, and are federal financial aid and Pell Grant-eligible. Students, regardless of major, can take them to minor in data science. Thanks to the recent funding round, options to minor in web development and digital marketing are enrolling now for January 2021.

“We’re able to invest more capital than any single institution would be able to invest in a program like this,” Morgan said. “Rather than an institution having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a program, we spend millions instead. They get world-class content, turnkey.”

The Podium partnership model requires zero out-of-pocket production expenses or from institutions and can be launched to students in as little as two weeks. Podium takes a 50 percent fee from institutions for each student enrolled in one of its courses.

“Podium helped us launch a new Data Analytics and Data Visualization program with strong student demand this past summer,” said Yusuf Dahl, executive director of the Dyer Center for Entrepreneurship at Lafayette College. “Combining a classic liberal

Full return for Weston’s younger students raises staffing issues

WESTON — Students are expected to fully return at the lower levels later this month, raising concerns for the school board about what that means for those still distance learning.

The Board of Education supported the lower schools switching to fully in-person and expanding the middle school’s hybrid learning to a full day beginning Oct. 26. But members raised concerns the plan the district’s administration presented Thursday could require additional staffing dedicated to distance learning. The high school would remain in its hybrid early-dismissal model.

“While in this document we are recommending hybrid full day, our energies are substantially on getting everybody back in,” Superintendent William McKersie said at a BOE meeting Thursday. “We want everybody back in — certainly K-5 we want them back in and that’s what the document is saying.”

The possibility of having to hire additional staff to designate teachers for the voluntary distance learning program caused concern for some Board of Education members.

“I don’t think hiring an added expense is just the quick easy answer,” BOE member Ruby Hedge said. “I think we need to get creative on all fronts.”

Hedge said the discussion on having a designated teacher for distance learning had been ongoing since the summer, and it had to be acknowledged a mistake may have been made that no moves were made.

“We have due diligence to do here on how we make the right decision, but still be financially responsible to this town,” she said.

Mckersie said the district was facing a critical pivot point. He said clarity on the distance learning program would be provided to the BOE in the coming days, including the proposed staffing arrangement and estimated cost.

“I can assure you if we aren’t looking at how to handle our voluntary distance learning students differently, the K-5 back in is going to be a struggle for those teachers,” he said. “We’re not going to address the voluntary distance learning issue.”

BOE member Melissa Walker said at a minimum a lot more time was needed to review the distance learning program. She said she was also concerned of designating new distance learning teachers to students who have already become accustomed to their current classes.

“Cost is just one of the many factors that I think have not been thought through thoroughly,” she said.

Mckersie said the administration was not trying to back anyone into a corner, but was working to run the system while modifying a new approach.

“We’re just trying to keep this moving and to do that in the best way possible,” he said.

BOE member Hillary Koyner said it would be helpful if the board could be provided a distance learning option without adding additional teachers.

“I don’t know how long this is going to go on for,” she said.

With a possible full return at the lower level, board members said community responsibility in keeping schools open will be key.

A district-wide pivot to temporary remote learning occurred earlier in the school year