This Startup is Looking to Address the College Dropout Rate

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Nearly half of all US college students drop out. This startup wants to fix that

Last October, Bill Gates weighed-in on America’s alarmingly high college drop-out rate in a video he posted on his blog: “The U.S. has the highest college dropout rate. We’re number one in terms of the number of people who start college but we’re like number 20 in terms of the number of people who finish college.”

“Based on the latest college completion trends, only about half of all those students (54.8 percent) will leave college with a diploma. The rest–most of them low-income, first-generation, and minority students–will not finish a degree. They’ll drop out.”

“This is tragic,” he says. “Not just for the students and their families, but for our nation. Without more graduates, our country will face a shortage of skilled workers and fewer low-income families will get the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.”

High drop-out rates mean that millions of students are taking on debt without earning their degree. And the level of student debt has exploded in recent years: Today 44 million Americans hold $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.

While many people debate what to do about the problem, two entrepreneurs have decided to do something about it. Four years ago, while they were still working at a management consulting firm in Boston, Jackson Boyar and James Morrissey provided pro bono advice to colleges trying to establish mentorship programs for new students.

Spotting an opportunity to build a business around the mentorship services they were providing, they quit their jobs and launched Shearwater International. Backed in part by angel investors such as NXT Ventures, the company today is partnering with over 60 colleges, universities, and secondary boarding schools to provide pre-qualified mentors to thousands of students.

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