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The Brief Life of a College Alternative: MissionU Will Cease Operations After Sale to WeWork

By Jeffrey R. Young     May 17, 2018

MissionU didn't actually put up a closed sign, but it has ceased taking applications and noted on its site that it will end its one-year program.

Traditional colleges don’t open, or close, very often. But in the world of experimental higher education, new entities can pop up quickly, and can shut down with little fanfare.

That seems to be the story of MissionU, which was billed as a one-year alternative to a traditional college when it opened just last year. It was even featured on The Today Show and on CNN as a promising alternative to the four-year higher-ed model at a time of rising student debt. But this week the experimental institution announced that it would cease its one-year program and only continue serving existing students until later this year.

MissionU students did not have to pay upfront for the program, but instead agreed to hand over up to 15 percent of their incomes for three years once they land a job that pays $50,000 or more. But MissionU has confirmed to EdSurge that due to the closure, none of the students who have gone through some or all of the educational program will have to pay back anything. In other words, the students are being relieved from the income-share agreement they made with the company.

MissionU has been acquired by WeWork, the company that runs coworking spaces in 22 countries, and which recently announced that it would start a network of K-12 schools called WeGrow.

The founder and CEO of MissionU, Adam Braun, will become the chief operating officer of WeGrow, according to a blog post by Rebekah Neumann, the founding CEO of WeGrow (and a founding partner of WeWork). “Adam will help us open up our first school this fall,” she wrote. WeGrow plans to use technology developed by MissionU for its schools.

A note on the MissionU web site trumpets that it has “joined the WeWork family.” But it also notes that the key function that MissionU has served, to offer a one-year educational alternative to college, will soon cease.

“While we'll continue to serve our current students through later this year, we will not be adding new students to our one-year program and instead will focus on driving impact through WeGrow and the broader WeWork community at large,” said Braun in the statement. A report in FastCompany on Wednesday said MissionU “will keep staff on hand for the next few months as it winds down operations.”

Braun declined a request from EdSurge for an interview.

Critics of MissionU argued that the one-year program should not claim to serve as a replacement for a four-year college experience, and worried that its students may not get the broad-based education needed to prepare for life and work beyond their first job.

Officials from MissionU say that the majority of the students from its first cohort of 30 people have already landed jobs, at companies that include Spotify, Accenture and Instacart.

MissionU had raised more than $11-million in venture funding from investors. The company did not reveal the sale price to WeWork, but said that it was an all-stock deal.

WeWork officials suggested that they would integrate MissionU’s curriculum into its offerings, but it declined to elaborate.

The co-working giant has made moves into higher education. This January it forged a partnership with 2U to allow students in online degree programs that the company operates with traditional colleges to be able to use WeWork spaces for free. And last year it acquired the coding bootcamp Flatiron School.

On Twitter, Christopher Nyren, founder of Educelerate, commented that the deal was a rare “acquihire” in edtech, since one key outcome of the deal is that Braun moves to a job at WeGrow.

Joe Lopiccolo, who has been a student at MissionU and is now listed as a Data Analytics Fellow there, said he was “so happy to be a pioneer of this education model.” Asked whether he was worried about how he would explain his time at MissionU now that it is defunct, he replied: "Not really. I've got skills for life now."

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