Frank Lyman

MyEdu, a free online platform that helps students organize their classes and view career opportunities, has been acquired by Blackboard, a learning-management system from which the University is in the process of transitioning away from.

The UT System Board of Regents invested $10 million in a five-year agreement with MyEdu in 2011 to provide funding for the creation of new tools targeted toward UT institutions. MyEdu co-founder John Cunningham is the son of William Cunningham, former System chancellor and UT Austin president. The regents were aware of this connection at the time of the investment. A UT System press release said the agreement would be honored on a cost-free basis through September 2016 and there will be “no financial return to the UT System as a result of Blackboard’s acquisition.”

UT will transition from Blackboard to Canvas, a different learning management system, next fall. Brad Englert, UT chief information officer, said the University’s transition to Canvas will not be affected by Blackboard’s acquisition of MyEdu. 

Frank Lyman, chief product officer at MyEdu, said their decision to partner with Blackboard was not influenced by this impending transition. 

“The UT System has been very supportive of MyEdu doing what we can to help students,” Lyman said. “We were aware of [UT’s transition to Canvas], but I don’t think it concerned us necessarily. We had assurances from Blackboard that they had no intention of limiting MyEdu students at campuses with Blackboard.” 

Eighty percent of undergraduate students have MyEdu accounts according to the release. Lyman said MyEdu sought to establish a relationship with another company in the industry in order to expand their impact to a wider array of students. 

“We knew that we were doing some great things for students,” Lyman said. “We were looking for ways to really accelerate that. We had a lot of different conversations with partners and investors  …. [Blackboard] seemed to be the most compelling of all the options.” 

According to Lyman, MyEdu will be able to expand its existing functions by using tools and products provided by Blackboard.  

“One thing we’re very excited about is the fact that [Blackboard wants] us to keep doing what we’re doing,” Lyman said. “They want to keep it free for students and continue our approach to research and understanding how to help students.”

Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt said the services offered by MyEdu will help to strengthen Blackboard’s existing priorities. 

“Everyone is looking for ways to help more students obtain degrees more quickly,” Bhatt said in a statement. “MyEdu is highly complementary to our current solution set and will help us drive more value and a higher quality experience for learners and enable new paths to support student goals. This strengthens the focus we have on learner success, which is a big priority for us going forward.”

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University will be monitoring the acquisition closely to see what changes will take place.

MyEdu CEO Michael Crosno and Vice President Deepak Surana present to the UT System's Board of Regents in July.

Photo Credit: Will Crites-Krumm | Daily Texan Staff

MyEdu claims students support changes made by the company in the past year, but former student leaders doubt the changes are beneficial or worth the $10 million the UT System invested in the company. 

At the UT System regents meeting earlier this month, MyEdu showcased new features providing career services to the company’s website. MyEdu executives cited student satisfaction in their short presentation, which elicited few comments from the regents, but the company’s new career services options may not be the best direction for students, said Michael Morton, former Senate of College Councils president and UT alumnus. 

"I haven’t really been impressed with MyEdu and their communication with students on what exactly they’ve changed in their product," Morton said. "There’s a long way to go in order for MyEdu to be an effective company."

In October, MyEdu began offering career services on its website, as well as a “student profile” service. In an interview with The Daily Texan, Frank Lyman, chief product officer at MyEdu, said the profile gives students a place to showcase their skills to employers.

The partnership between UT and MyEdu began in 2011, when the UT System made a $10 million investment into MyEdu, a website that helps college students select their courses and professors online. John Cunningham, one of the company’s founders, is the son of former UT-Austin President and UT System Chancellor William Cunningham. The UT System Board of Regents were aware of the connection when the investment was made.

“MyEdu has always been an academic platform that helps students plan and succeed in college,” Lyman said. “What we recognized is that for a lot of students, the goal was really broader than just their academic success.”

However, Morton and former Student Government President Thor Lund both said they were concerned with MyEdu’s new focus on connecting students with employers. While in office, Lund and Morton were the only student members on UT’s MyEdu steering committee. 

“It presents a lot of ethical dilemmas when there’s a partnership between the UT System and MyEdu if students’ information is being giving to employers,” Morton said. “It really presents a lot of questions regarding what information is being used and how employers are having their jobs targeted toward students.”

The committee, also made up of faculty and staff members, meets with MyEdu representatives every month during the regular semesters to discuss ideas and issues with the company’s product. 

Lund said MyEdu’s job matching service is not the best place for UT students to find jobs. Lund pointed out that there are already Career Services offices and job fairs offered on campus.

“I don’t think that’s how the job process should go,” Lund said. “I don’t think people should be picked out for jobs based on what activities they’ve been in or how they did in certain classes. I think each person is a unique case, and you can’t judge them based on an online profile.”

Not all members of the steering committee share these concerns. Brad Englert, UT chief information officer and head of the steering committee, said students can choose not to use MyEdu if they do not want to use the service.

“We’re all for students getting jobs,” Englert said. “I’m not sure what the concerns would be, but you opt into it. It’s not that you’re required to use it.”

Englert said more than 90 percent of UT-Austin students have a MyEdu account.

The company also made changes to its professor review feature. Previously, the website allowed students to write both positive and negative reviews of professors and rate them on a five-star scale. According to Lyman, MyEdu removed the negative reviews and star-ratings as part of the company’s decision to move to an objective review method. Lyman said the site now offers questionnaires about professors’ classes.

“We changed our professor [review] model to a recommendation model,” Lyman said. “Every semester, we do a customer satisfaction survey with all of our students across the country. I specifically looked at the UT-Austin feedback for the April survey and there were zero negative comments around professor reviews and recommendations.” 

However, Lund said the company’s previous professor review system better served UT students.

“The reason I go to MyEdu is because I want to know how a professor teaches,” Lund said. “If they really wanted to be a successful company, they would bring back honest professor reviews. But for some reason, the company has decided that they’re a job hunting company.”

Michael Redding, former Graduate Student Assembly president, also expressed his frustrations with the company. Redding said while serving as GSA president, his attempts to contact MyEdu representatives about expanding the company’s services to graduate students were unsuccessful.

“My impression was that they weren’t very responsive when it came to working with students,” Redding said.

In a March letter to Rep. Roberto Alonzo, R-Dallas, Redding called the company an “unproven system.” Shortly after, he received an email from MyEdu CEO Michael Crosno regarding his comments. Redding shared the email exchange with The Daily Texan.

“We have worked very hard over the last year to build a partnership with all the System campuses and especially UT Austin,” Crosno wrote in the email. “Hopefully, you will take the time to learn more about what we are doing at UT Austin to work cooperatively with the administration, students and faculty.”

According to Crosno’s email, Crosno discussed Redding’s comments with UT Provost Steven Leslie.

“That was something that I’ve never seen before: The CEO of a company calling me out for calling his company out,” Redding said.

Lyman said Crosno always takes an interest with any student public opinion on MyEdu. 

“In this case he reached out to Michael Redding to invite him to lunch and try and better understand his thoughts on MyEdu,” Lyman said.

Redding and Crosno were unable to schedule a meeting with each other. 

“None of the other student leaders I have worked with like MyEdu,” Redding said. “I would definitely say that it is not the case that students, at least the elected student representatives at UT-Austin, like it.”

Responding to Lund, Morton and Redding, Lyman cited a MyEdu survey that found 96 percent of UT students surveyed expressed satisfaction with the company’s product.

“That suggests to me that most students are really pleased with what we are doing,” Lyman said.

In the future, Morton said the UT System must find a new way to make its partnership with MyEdu more beneficial to students since it now cannot take back its investment, 

“I can think of about 10 million areas that are better spent for the $10 million,” Morton said. “But you have to move forward. The money is spent. If [MyEdu and the UT System] can find a way that will improve how students find the courses that they need, and how they plan for their four years at the University, then that’s the key.”

Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.

As students plan their schedules for another semester and navigate the often stressful registration process, they use the variety of course-planning tools at their disposal. They book advising appointments, consult degree audits and cobble together schedules. For help with that process, many turn to MyEdu, a website founded in 2008 that centralizes scheduling, degree planning, professor reviews and academic advising in one online platform.

In 2011 the UT System Board of Regents invested $10 million in MyEdu, ostensibly in an attempt to provide a more efficient and easy-to-use means of planning for graduation.

The investment was in the news for months following the initial announcement, and debate swirled over whether it was worthwhile — especially juxtaposed against the regents’ other, more austere measures, like the 2012 refusal to allow UT-Austin a modest tuition raise. At the time of the investment, UT President William Powers Jr., said that it “was a decision of the board, not a decision of the campus,” and that he would have spent the money differently.

In response, the UT System released a statement describing the investment as “a literal ‘gift’ from the Board of Regents directly to the 211,000 students matriculating in the system’s institutions.”

In the time since, the furor has died down. In an interview with The Daily Texan, Powers said that “the MyEdu people have been extremely responsive to the campus needs ... The working relationship between us and the MyEdu people has been very cooperative.” When asked about the comment he made to the contrary in 2011, he said, “That’s history, and I would like to move ahead and say, ‘How can we move forward in a positive way?’”

However, the question remains — was the regents’ investment justified? And has it turned out as helpful to students as it was promised to be?

The numbers show that since the investment, MyEdu has surged in popularity at UT. According to Frank Lyman, MyEdu’s chief product officer, roughly 90,000 students across the UT System use MyEdu today, compared to under 40,000 before 2011. UT-Austin specifically has shown a similar but less dramatic surge; 90 percent of the undergraduate population uses the website now compared to 75 percent before. Clearly, the partnership between UT and MyEdu has benefited MyEdu.

Michael Morton, former UT Senate of College Councils president, has a less positive view of the collaboration. “I don’t think it’s benefited UT students much at all,” Morton says. “From a student perspective, you’re not getting anything different than you had prior to the deal.”

MyEdu executives dispute that claim; Lyman points to the new sections of the website devoted to job searches and student profiles to attract potential employers. “We have about 20 current employers who are connecting with students on the MyEdu platform,” Lyman says. “We also scrape hundreds of thousands of jobs from around the web and suggest them to students based on things they put in their profile.”

However, one metric suggests that for the vast majority of users, the changes since the collaboration began have not been quite as revolutionary as MyEdu supporters predicted. The job search and career profile sections of the website, while expanding, still only comprise respectively 12 and 5 percent of the site’s traffic. The rest of the site’s users mostly stick to the professor reviews and scheduling features, which, while extremely useful, were freely available before 2011. They’re also easily accessible outside of MyEdu — and Google Calendar offer similar services, although anyone using them would have to endure the inconvenience of opening two separate tabs.

It’s impossible to quantify whether the collaboration will markedly improve four-year graduation rates as promised. But the question of whether the University should have partnered with MyEdu is easier to answer.

UT is welcome to invest its money in a wide variety of companies and enterprises, including online education aids like MyEdu. Based on the success the company has shown in increasing its foothold across the UT System, it’s proven to be a profitable venture. However, the regents’ unusually direct investment — which bypassed the University’s investment company — and enthusiastic hype for MyEdu overstate the partnership’s benefits to UT students. MyEdu is a useful tool, and its popularity among the student population is a credit to its functionality. But to the average student registering for courses this spring, it has not yet become the $10 million “gift” that was promised.

For his part, President Powers prefers to let the issue lie. “If the point of your inquiry is, ‘was the original investment worthwhile,’” he said, “that’s in the past and I’d like to focus on moving forward.”

MyEdu announced its student profile Wednesday morning, which will help students connect with potential employers (Photo courtesy of MyEdu).

Coinciding with a restructuring of UT’s career services on campus, will now help students in the hunt for jobs and internships.

The online higher education platform launched an overhaul of its website Wednesday morning and introduced “the student profile,” designed to connect students with potential employers. Students can search for jobs and internships, while employers can search for candidates who are matches for their company.

“Our mission is to help students get a better return on higher education,” said Frank Lyman, senior vice president of products and marketing at MyEdu. “After a couple of years of doing a lot to help students on the academic side, we are now adding this career aspect.”

Last year, the UT system invested $10 million in the online platform. MyEdu executive board member John Cunningham is the son of former UT President and UT System Chancellor William Cunningham.

Previously, MyEdu was a tool students could use to plan out their schedules for years in advance. The website has course data collected from more than 800 institutions, and Lyman said the scheduling service helps students graduate on time and save money. The scheduling service is still a part of MyEdu’s website, but now students can create a profile that shows their interests, skills and abilities.

Lyman said MyEdu spent a lot of time talking to students and trying to figure out what kind of services they were not receiving. He said many students wanted help finding careers and internships.

“What we are trying to accomplish is help students tell their story uniquely,” Lyman said. “The resume is a piece of paper, and everything interesting about a student is in one line at the bottom.”

The student profile will allow students to create an interactive resume where they show their work experience, volunteer hours, passion, skills, dream job, Facebook and twitter accounts, projects and more.

MyEdu’s new service coincides with UT’s establishment of the University Career Interview and Recruiting Center, which will oversee each college’s career services. The center was announced last spring.

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for Undergraduate Education and Faculty, said having multiple career services across campus that were not overseen by one center made it confusing for employers who were trying to find an entry point to the University.

“We also felt that some of our students were not being served as well as we’d like them to be,” Ritter said. “Some of the smaller schools may not have as many resources.”

Ritter and Brad Englert, UT’s chief information officer, help lead the implementation effort for MyEdu on campus. Englert said this center will encourage students to use MyEdu’s student profile.

“I think they’re going to coordinate multiple tools to help students,” Englert said. “MyEdu is one of the tools in the toolbox. It is something that can be used.”

Ritter said UT System officials have been working with MyEdu since the company approached them about the idea of a student profile.

“It’s been something that has been refined through extensive dialogue between the company, the system, the regents and the campuses,” Ritter said.

Englert said the UT System responded very positively to MyEdu’s intial presentation of the student profile.

Lyman, senior vice president of products and marketing at MyEdu, said MyEdu will work with career service officers across the nation to ensure they understand what the new student profile can do for students.

“Career services uses a lot of different tools to help students,” Lyman said. “Our hope is that this will be another tool career services will recommend to students.”

MyEdu is a free service for students, and the company said Wednesday it will always remain free.

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: MyEdu evolves to include career services for students

The interactive degree planning site MyEdu will offer daily updates on course availability, user profiles and a mobile app in time for Monday’s registration.

As the University works with the site, more features will be added as a result of the UT System’s $10 million partnership with MyEdu that began on October 18. Frank Lyman, MyEdu senior vice president of marketing and business development, said discussions with the UT campuses influenced the creation of the features.

Course availability will be updated on MyEdu’s website at midnight each evening, which Lyman said will make planning a schedule easier and more reliable. While the system does not update in real time, developers are considering implementing the feature, Lyman said.

He said the creation of academic profiles stemmed from student interest in sharing and knowing more about their academic community.

“[Students] said who I am on Facebook might be different from who I want to be academically,” Lyman said.

This feature contains a question and answer section that Lyman said he hopes faculty will utilize to answer class questions.

Some faculty members are concerned about MyEdu’s comments and ratings section that allows users to evaluate individual instructors. Lyman said this section will remain, along with another feature that is expected to launch at the end of April that will match students’ preferred learning methods to the teaching styles of faculty members.

“How do we provide the same [feature] in a way that’s more fair and objective?” Lyman said.

The MyEdu app is available for any mobile browser, which includes information on courses and campus buildings, Lyman said. He said students can use it for different functions like finding building hours or forming study groups.

Psychology senior Stephanie Holloway said before she used MyEdu she would have to create a spreadsheet to plan her schedule, since she thought UT’s registration system was confusing.

Holloway said the University’s Interactive Degree Audit is better for long-term planning, but she uses MyEdu to manage course loads. However, she said she dislikes how students use some of the site’s other features.

“I’m not the kind of student who looks for the easiest class,” Holloway said. “It seems like it’s being kind of abused. I’m looking for teaching style and effective teaching. I would use it to see a nice visualization of ‘what am I stacking on top of myself this semester?’”

Vice provost and registrar Shelby Stanfield serves as the co-chair of the University’s MyEdu steering team, which includes several students and faculty members. Stanfield said MyEdu’s graduation roadmap is like a sketch pad, whereas the Interactive Degree Audit is like a more detailed planning device. He said the team’s main objective is to explore how the two systems can work together.

“We can say, ‘here’s how you can get maximum benefit,’” Stanfield said. “You can use these in a complementary fashion.”

Version 2.0 of the audit rolled out March 21 with what Stanfield described as a much more enhanced user interface.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure improvements,” Stanfield said. “It sets the stage for future features that we’re going to plug into the degree audit.”

Stanfield said the steering team has met twice, but plans to start meeting bi-weekly to further examine the features that MyEdu can offer the University.

“It’s very much still evolving,” Stanfield said.

UT System officials were aware of a familial connection between a MyEdu Corp. executive and a former chancellor, according to emails obtained by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act.

The system invested $10 million in the website MyEdu to increase graduation rates by helping students better understand how to navigate through their degree plans with online advising. The UT System publicly mentioned interest in MyEdu at the Aug. 25 Board of Regents meeting and formally announced the partnership on Oct. 18.

Randa Safady, UT System vice chancellor for external relations, sent an email to system officials, including Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, about a personal connection between MyEdu and the UT System on July 5. William Cunningham is a former system chancellor, former UT-Austin president and current faculty member at the McCombs School of Business. Cunningham has had a financial stake in MyEdu, which was co-founded by his son, John Cunningham.

“John Cunningham is Bill Cunningham’s son,” Safady said in the email. “He started this business some time ago, and it has really taken off. I believe Bill has supported it, too.”

Cigarroa, in a response to Safady’s email, did not directly acknowledge the connection but said he and two other UT regents were interested in the company.

UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said in an email to The Daily Texan that the chancellor was aware of the familial connection but not of the financial stake the elder Cunningham has in the company. De Bruyn also said that even if knowledge of the financial stake had been known, the system was under no legal obligation to disclose it, as Texas Government Code only places procedural restrictions if a contract is within four years of the person being the executive head of the state agency. Bill Cunningham was chancellor until 2000.

Cigarroa presented the MyEdu partnership as a way to improve four-year graduation rates, which would allow for students to get through UT institutions more quickly and allow for a greater number of students to attend the institutions.

MyEdu officials plan to initially launch the new platform at UT-Austin, UT-Arlington and UT-Permian Basin before the next registration period in the spring.

MyEdu co-founder and CEO Michael Crosno sent an email to Cigarroa on Aug. 27 about his vision for MyEdu’s financial impact for students.

“Soon the UT System will set the bar for providing tools to families for lowering the cost of their education, and it won’t be through reducing tuition — there are better ways,” Crosno wrote.

Cigarroa expressed enthusiasm to sign the MyEdu agreement, which Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, echoed in an email on Sept. 12.

“I am good to go with the chancellor signing these documents,” Powell said. “Congratulations! Great work in record time.”

UT-Austin faculty have raised concerns about inaccurate information on the current MyEdu site, including classes listed under their names for courses never taught.

Frank Lyman, MyEdu senior vice president of marketing and business development, said data on MyEdu about students, faculty and classes comes from public information requests. Lyman said the new platform should be more reliable because data will come directly from the UT System. He said this benefits students and faculty because MyEdu can now go directly to the UT System to correct inaccuracies.

“When we don’t have accurate data, we’re not credible,” Lyman said.

MyEdu currently contains a comments and ratings section that allows users to evaluate individual faculty members and see class grade distributions. Some faculty worry that the feedback is unreliable and could be used in making University personnel decisions, including those made when awarding tenure. President William Powers Jr. said a few weeks ago that the information available on MyEdu will not be used to judge professors because the University has its own course evaluations.

Lyman said MyEdu will talk about the comments and ratings section with key University contacts, but it is difficult to say what decision will be made about the role of the section in the new platform. He said the information can help students choose which professor to take, but plans depend upon the answer to the question “is there a way to do this that faculty members support?”

Lyman said MyEdu wants to better understand faculty concerns and suggestions for tools so the company will talk to key contacts from the pilot institutions within the next month.

“We realize we need to deepen our relationship with faculty and advisers,” Lyman said. “We all have a common goal — get the students through the class and graduate.”

Lyman said the information sharing with the UT System will allow for new tools to be made. He said the most requested tool from students is to be able to see class availability as they register.

UT student regent John Davis Rutkauskas attended the July 13 meeting between some of the UT System regents and MyEdu via teleconference. Rutkauskas addressed the UT Senate of College Councils meeting a few weeks ago and said overall, there is a lot of uncertainty about the MyEdu partnership. Rutkauskas said most of the discussions with MyEdu are in regards to big-picture ideas and he agreed with Senate members that the UT System should not move forward until some of the major questions are answered.

“It’s easy to understand why a faculty member might be concerned about MyEdu,” Rutkauskas said.

However, Rutkauskas said, some faculty members “misunderstand the technology” because they cannot see all of the advising tools available to students if they do not create a MyEdu login. Rutkauskas championed the deal and said it was made for the benefit of the students to help them get through the University as quickly as they want.

The student regent said he wants to help further discussions when it’s pertinent to people in the UT System administration. Rutkauskas criticized negative feedback about the partnership and said he originally expected faculty and students at UT Austin to applaud the deal.

“If I’m totally off base with that, then let me know,” Rutkauskas said.

Printed on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 as: UT partners with MyEdu despite family ties

Blueprint for the Future

Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part, weekly series examining System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s plan to increase efficiency across UT institutions.

Online advising will increase across the UT System to ease degree planning and more emphasis will be placed on online classes and learning tools.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s Framework for Excellence Action Plan focuses on cutting instructional costs by utilizing more online courses and increasing graduation rates by helping students better understand how to navigate through their degree plans with online advising.

The UT System Board of Regents are discussing a $10 million partnership with the website MyEdu to enhance advising. MyEdu provides class grade histories, faculty reviews, a schedule planner and degree planner. Frank Lyman, MyEdu senior vice president of marketing and business development, said the site’s tools help students manage their course workload each semester and map out a path to degree completion.

“That’s what got the interest of the regents and the community the last few years,” Lyman said.

He said 30,000 UT undergraduate students have registered and logged into MyEdu in the past year.

The objective to improve graduation rates includes making the transfer process into UT institutions go more smoothly.

“I would like to see those students have a seamless transfer and graduate in four years,” Cigarroa said when he introduced the framework Aug. 25.

In an effort to include more online learning in classes, which began before Cigarroa’s framework came out, UT is partnering with Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and its Department of Physics, according to a UT press release. The technology developed through this partnership will be applied through the Course Transformation Program at UT Austin.

The Course Transformation Program will redesign eight to 10 lower division courses or course sequences over a five year period which began this semester, said Gretchen Ritter , vice provost of undergraduate education and faculty governance.

“The goal is to provide students with more tools and opportunities to master the core concepts and academic skills they need to be successful in these courses,” Ritter said.

She said the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning is putting $2.5 million towards the integration of online exercises, videos, animations and learning modules.

“It will allow instructors to shift to a more active learning format during the class periods,” Ritter said.

She said the first courses to be redesigned will be Introductory Biology, Principles of Chemistry and Data Analysis for the Health Sciences.

This summer marketing senior Nathan Chang took the online course The Psychology of Advertising in Video Games and would stream the professor’s lectures. He said the main advantage was the ability to participate from home, but he thinks the instant messaging system made it easier for some of the 23 students in his class to not actively participate. He said the physical presence of a class is helpful in terms of talking to the professor, but online tools such as discussion boards save time.

“It’s up to the professor to build in ways to make sure every student interacts,” Chang said. “I think you can take the positive from each and it would work.”