Endowments Fund New Takes on Higher Ed

University endowments are backing a venture fund aimed at shaking up higher education.

Illustration by II

Illustration by II

With the backing of endowments, University Ventures is seeking to remake higher education.

The investments come at a time when U.S. colleges and universities are under pressure to reduce student debt, reach lower income students and under-represented minorities, and align their investments with social and environmental goals. University Ventures, whose investors are primarily endowments – University of Texas Investment Management Co. was an anchor investor in University Ventures’ first fund – is also challenging traditional educational models in higher education.

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One portfolio company called Tiber Health is aiming to change the way medical schools educate students by, for example, improving access to low-income populations. David Lenihan, a former dean at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York, co-founded Tiber Health, which uses a combination of online learning, classroom work, clinicals, and data analysis to help students keep on top of workloads and pass exams that allow them to enter the profession in different regions.

Tiber uses data to predict student scores on boards and standardized tests. It also uses data to identify early those students at risk of dropping out. Lenihan said Tiber’s goals are to address the worldwide shortage of doctors and medical workers by re-inventing medical school education, which has remained stubbornly untouched by technology innovation.

“Traditional medical schools are lecture-based, not competency based,” he said. Lenihan added that the company is prepared for any regulatory pushback by proving that its students are passing the same exams as those educated by traditional medical schools. “All we need to do is show we’re maintaining quality,” he says.

University Ventures co-founder Daniel Pianko, who is also on the board of Tiber, said they’re “looking to solve the big problems in education. There are really big gaps. We need more doctors, more coders, and different ways to finance education.... With Tiber, for example, we can predict your board scores after three to six months. Tell me a traditional medical school that can do that.”

Among others, University Ventures has stakes in UnCollege, which runs a gap-year program to help students maximize their investment in college; ProSky, which offers courses to help students make the transition to work; and Galvanize, a network of urban campuses that allows technology students and entrepreneurs to do paid work and academic work at the same time.