November 12, 2021
Woolf raises $7.5 million to make higher education more accessible by building a global collegiate university
By Joshua Broggi, PhD

Our mission at Woolf is to make higher education more accessible and ensure that it is globally transferable. We’re building a university for a borderless future, helping a network of colleges around the world maintain excellence in their teaching and receive recognition for their programs.

Woolf is the first global, collegiate higher education institution that lets qualified organizations join as member colleges and offer accredited degrees. Our software helps colleges meet and maintain regulatory and quality standards - managing everything from course creation to degree issuance. Like the member colleges at the University of Oxford or the University of California, Woolf’s colleges have the benefit of being a part of a major higher education institution, while staying independent.

Higher education is increasingly important - and expensive.

The number of students seeking post-secondary education is expected to rise from 207 million to more than 350 million over the next 10 years.[1] To put that growth into perspective, that’s 25,000 more students per day, every day, for the next decade.

If we are going to make high-quality higher education accessible to the next generation of students, then we need a lot more colleges to support them. But starting a new college is enormously expensive and challenging.

Accreditation is hard, stressful, and complicated. Without it, courses have low recognition.

For new education providers, the accreditation process can seem impossibly complicated, and for existing providers, it is extremely costly to maintain. Accreditation is an official validation provided by an external regulator (often government-related). It covers a wide range of quality standards and operational practices, from the education level of the faculty to the approval process for curriculum changes.

Managing compliance, and reporting on that compliance, touches every aspect of an institution, and this has contributed to the outsized growth of administration in higher education. In fact, administrators now outnumber teachers in universities across the US and UK.[2] Accreditation processes are fragmented and location-bound, whereas students are increasingly studying and working across borders and online - further increasing the regulatory burden on institutions.

Accreditation is meant to protect students, and it is core to the $2tn higher education industry. It is embedded in the legal fabric of every country, affecting tax, visas, employability, and the right for institutions to operate at all.

But the cost of our accreditation and administration system is ultimately paid for by the students it is meant to protect – many of whom go into debt paying for it.

We’re building a university for the future.

I am an academic, and I believe universities will continue to be important institutions for our civilization. But our 19th-century systems need a meaningful upgrade. Teachers and students are boxed in by operational processes that weren’t designed for the internet age.

We need to create new degrees, in topics that haven’t yet been invented, for jobs that don’t yet exist, supporting students across borders. But until now it’s taken years to approve of new degree programs and demonstrate they meet the standards required for accreditation.

At Woolf, we’re building software to simplify accreditation compliance without cutting corners. Our software measures academic courses and related processes for compliance with regulatory standards, and then matches qualified courses to accreditation licenses. We want our software to provide students and regulators with confidence in every program and its learning outcomes.

As a collegiate higher education institution, our goal is to bring high-quality educators into the legitimate higher education space. Today, we’re supporting 7 pilot colleges across 7 different countries offering courses and degrees in a range of topics including business, technology, and the humanities, mostly at the graduate level. One such college, Applied Roots College is preparing to launch a new MSc in Computer Science; another is the Global School of Entrepreneurship, which currently offers an MBA degree.

We’re named after Virginia Woolf, who imagined a new, future university; she argued that everything needed for intellectual freedom is a small amount of money and a room of one’s own. That has never been more true than today, when students and teachers anywhere in the world can join amazing courses directly from their own rooms.

New funding supports our mission.

We’re excited to be partnering with First Round Capital, who led our $7.5m seed financing to help us grow our team, deepen our accreditation activities, and improve our software. They’ve already been an incredible support. We’re also honored to have world-class investors joining this round, including Connect Ventures, Firebolt, Baleen Capital, Oyster, On Deck, and angels like Peter Bachmann, Taavet Hinrikus of Wise, Sten Tamkivi of Teleport, Tony Jamous of OysterHR, Matthew Clifford of Entrepreneurs First, Tyler Cowen, and Charles Songhurst.

We are especially grateful to our trailblazing colleges and their leaders who believed in the Woolf mission from the start. Special consideration is also due to the regulators and lawyers that patiently work with us to ensure we can provide high-quality programs to the next generation of students.

We’re building for a future in which thousands of colleges can join Woolf. We want to provide a complete set of accreditation licenses for every program, not only increasing the speed of innovation in higher education, but lowering costs for students, and making high-quality education more widely accessible. If you’re interested in joining us, we’re hiring for roles on our partnerships and engineering teams. If you’d like to consider joining Woolf as a new college, you can learn more here.

Endnotes

  1. Total student population enrolled in post-secondary education was 100m in the year 2000 and 207m 2014 – UNESCO. Global post-secondary enrollment is expected to increase by 2030 to 377.4m (Calderon - moderate pathway) or 350m (IIASA SSP2 - moderate pathway) – Calderon 1, Calderon 2, IIASA.
  2. UK administrators as percentage of university staff – 51% UK HESA. US administrators as a disproportionate segment of university staff – Heching Report, Bain Report, AIR. (Note: the most recent US statistics are 2012. The UK numbers show the 2014 uptick.)