Uvize Determined to Help Veterans Make Transition to College Life

5/19/14Follow @MichaelXBD

Stepping off the military base—or battlefield—and on to a college campus can be a surprisingly difficult transition, but Uvize, a Boulder, CO-based startup, is looking to change that.

Uvize is a software startup that develops what co-founder and CEO Dave Cass calls virtual veterans centers. Veterans can use its online community features to connect with each other and find mentors. There also are tools that can help users predict the cost of college, come up with personalized study plans, and receive online lessons about navigating the transition.

“The problem we are addressing is the large number of veterans on campus and their difficulties transitioning to academic life, which is shown by lower graduation rates,” Cass said.

But just getting a diploma isn’t enough.

“We believe education for veterans is a pathway for opportunity. We want to ensure they get to the finish line with great academic success and be well-networked so a great career is waiting for them upon graduation,” Cass said.

Last year, Uvize was part of the first class to go through the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, which is run by Techstars. Earlier this month, Uvize raised $388,000 from investors including Kaplan Ventures, David Cohen, and FG Angels, the angel investing syndicate established last year by the Foundry Group. Uvize is seeking up to $750,000, according to SEC documents.

The startup will use most of the money to expand its team, Cass said. Uvize employs four people full time and has two contractors.

Uvize is free for veterans because universities pay $10,000 per year for the service, Cass said. He said eight schools, including Duke, George Washington, and Norwich universities, have used it during the recently completed academic semester.

Cass believes that as more schools adopt Uvize, it could become a recruiting tool.

“Veterans bring a tremendous number of strengths to campuses, and colleges like that and want more veterans,” Cass said.

Cass has firsthand knowledge as a veteran, a student, and a university faculty member. He was a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy before returning to school, and he currently is a faculty member of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He’s also written a book, The Strategic Student: Veteran’s Edition, on the subject.

Veterans are usually older than traditional students, which means they’ve often spent years away from school and might need to brush up on their study skills. They also have to adjust from the team-centered environment of the military to a more isolated life as a student, Cass said.

Finally, while the military is also heavily focused on teaching and training, the methods are much different than those used by colleges.

“The learning environment in the military is so dramatically different than in college that it can catch us off guard. It caught me off guard when I was going to grad school,” Cass said.

Uvize’s community features will help veterans learn from fellow students who have confronted the same issues.

“Our theory is that for veterans on campus, if they’re going through any sort of transitional issues, someone else on the campus has been through it before them and can help them,” Cass said.

The challenges can discourage veterans from continuing their studies, leading to lower graduation rates than traditional students, although just how low is in dispute.

Uvize doesn’t quote graduation rates because Cass believes the studies that have been done are inconclusive and show wildly different results. Instead of focusing on the problem of academic achievement, people get caught up in the validity of competing studies, he wrote in a post on Uvize’s blog.

 He expanded on that in an interview.

“It’s very controversial, which is why we don’t quote them anymore,” Cass said. “No one really agrees about the graduation rate, but there’s one thing we all agree on, and that is it’s not high enough.”

For the record, the Student Veterans Association in March released a report that found that 51.7 percent of veterans who use government benefits programs such as the GI Bill receive degrees or complete certification programs. That’s similar to the rate for traditional students.

The report did find that it often took longer for veterans to complete their degree programs. The report was conducted with help from the U.S. Veterans Administration and the National Student Clearinghouse.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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