Of the many ways that technology is disrupting education, one area that’s changing a lot, is rife with potential, but doesn’t get as much play as it should is tutoring. Mostly, this involves the attempt to make high-quality, local tutors accessible to a wider range of students online, without having to turn to traditional channels, like Craigslist or those pesky, expensive SAT-focused private networks.
There are a million marketplaces for tutors, and many startups that have joined in the struggle to make connecting with quality tutors possible, from Tutorspree, IAC’s Tutor.com and the increasing number of services like StudyBlue to WyzAnt and Chegg. But a new startup is launching out of beta today with backing from Andreessen Horowitz and others that wants to help push the space forward by creating a tutoring marketplace that is not only affordable for students but is a sort of official “Tutor List” for universities.
What does that mean?
In other words, Blake Miller, Ethan Fieldman and Chad Corbitt founded Tutor Matching Service to both increase student access to quality tutors and one-on-one education, which, unsurprisingly, is something schools are increasingly turning to as they look to increase graduation rates and learning outcomes. Both schools and teachers have begun to realize that they are going to be judged more on how students perform (and hopefully, how they perform on more nuanced assessments that prove mastery and not just the ability to take a standardized test).
Schools want to improve student graduation and success rates, and one-on-one tutoring is a great (and effective) way to do that, however, at most colleges and universities, there are few tutoring options for upper level chemistry, physics, math, languages and so on. College learning centers are asked for help in this regard by parents and students all the time, so Tutor Matching Service began by piloting (and sponsorships) from the career centers, learning centers and student governments of schools like CalTech, Purdue, NYU Poly and Kent State University.
The startup is attempting to establish a real tutoring marketplace, through which tutors can connect to students who need help in each subject, whether they want to volunteer or offer paid services. The founders initially started with a proof-of-concept Facebook app, but at launch, Tutor Matching Service is a web app that no longer requires you to use Facebook to log in.
The startup is now working with over 30 schools to offer tutoring services both online and on campus — and that’s what founder Blake Miller says is their real differentiator. The company has thus far grown organically by word of mouth, but is now on a mission to begin spreading the word. To incentivize schools, the service offers the ability to tap into data collection and analysis tools to map student progress and learning paths, giving those types of tools away for free.
So that means the service, when all is said and done, is a free service for schools, including that data on what students are booking, searching for, paying for and so on. To survive themselves, the company will withhold 10 percent of the fees that students pay to tutors — if a tutor charges $10/hour, the startup will take $1 and the tutor receives $9. For those who volunteer, no fee is applied.
Cost-wise, this could be comparable to digital solutions, or not, it really depends, since Tutor Matching Service is going to let tutors set the going rate of their services. But the company is putting emphasis on being truly affordable — not just another company that says it’ll be affordable and three months later is right up there with everyone else.
Today, having spread to 30 schools, the average price is $12/hour. Compared to “brick-and-mortar” tutoring services, that puts Tutor Matching Service in the “extremely affordable” category. Around the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, there’s Tutorpedia, which costs $105/hour (while tutors make $20-$40/hr), and Stutors, a tutoring company in downtown Palo Alto, is $96/hour. Then there’s Cardinal Tutors and many, many more. Their overhead requires them to take a huge cut and the stigma around tutoring — in other words, the fact that everyone and their mother expects tutoring to be expensive and a pain in the ass.
The other keys to Tutor Matching Service, which it hopes will make it appealing to high school and college students, if not differentiate it from others in its camp starts with offering both in-person and online tutoring. The other is that most tutoring companies which take the Kayak or lead-gen approach are really referral sites, potentially getting paid to send customers to particular companies.
Tutor Matching Service wants to be a marketplace, allowing people to contact tutors before booking, view mutual friends on Facebook and the network, and other features like this that can help add some transparency to the process. Lastly, for the campuses it’s working with, the startup is becoming an official “Tutor List,” that is to say the schools put links on their school websites, have flyers on campus, sending them traffic direct and acting as their advertising and marketing funnels, if you will.
Oh, that and the fact that it offers a 100 percent guarantee on the quality of its tutors, and more than 100 of its tutors are certified by their universities (which includes faculty recommendations, training and taking courses at the school).
There’s a long way left to go before Tutor Matching Service becomes the official tutoring network for higher ed in the U.S., but it’s certainly moving in that direction. There’s tons of competition and plenty of private tutoring companies will be up in arms if/when they begin infringing on their territory. But, really, it’s the Uber model at work, as local tutors can join the service, get certified and begin building reputation scores and seeing more students (and revenue) as a result. That could be hard to resist.