Roughly 25-30 million people in the United States have not graduated from high school, and a company based in Utah and founded by a University of Utah alumni is doing something about it.
Graduation Alliance partners with school districts, state agencies, and workforce boards across the country to provide online education and additional resources to help high school dropouts of any age achieve a diploma.
Alumni Gregg Rosann co-founded the company in 2007, when his team formed a hypothesis around the broad socioeconomic impact of high school dropouts. “Over a dropout’s lifetime, they earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less, are incarcerated more, become ill more frequently, and have a high reliance on social services,” said Rosann, who is now the president and chief technology officer of Graduation Alliance. “There is great value to the individual and to our communities if we can solve this problem.”
Rosann was one of the first students in the Lassonde New Venture Development program, which pairs graduate students with faculty inventors and entrepreneurs to launch products and companies. “This program gave me some initial inspiration and helped me gain confidence to pursue an entrepreneurial project,” he said.
Graduation Alliance has an array of online curriculum and is an accredited, diploma-granting institution. Aside from offering high school and career development courses tailored to the population they serve, what makes this program unique is the human element — teachers, social workers, and coaches who work with these students to make sure they succeed.
“People drop out of school because they have challenging life circumstances,” Rosann said. “Giving a student a username and password and calling it ‘online learning’ is not a recipe for success. We provide a wide range of resources to make sure their needs are being met — flexibility, accountability and support are the pillars of what makes this program successful.”
In the earlier days of the company, every time a student graduated, they would ring a school bell in celebration at their office in downtown Salt Lake City. The bell-ringing is on hold now with employees working remotely due to COVID and the sheer number of graduates the company has now.
“The student successes are the most rewarding thing about being a part of this company,” Rosann said. “Nearly 2,000 students graduated from our program in 2019 alone, and we expect that to grow to over 3,000 in 2020.”
In the last year, the company has also expanded its services to serve colleges and universities in applying what they’ve learned to recover students who did not complete their college degrees. While very early in the launch of this new endeavor, the results are promising.
In early 2020, the company was acquired by one of the world’s largest private equity firms, delivering a very strong return on investment to the investors who backed the company in the earlier days.
“What I have learned in the social entrepreneurship process is, you can do some good in the world and also do well along the way,” Rosann said. “Building this business has been the most rewarding professional endeavor I have taken on. I really want to encourage students participating in any of the Lassonde programs to consider what positive impact on the world they are having with the work they are doing.”