Altius Education: Obstacles to Innovation in Higher Education

By Rob Urstein, Jocelyn H. Hornblower
2023 | Case No. E824 | Length 20 pgs.
This case tells the story of education-technology entrepreneur Paul Freedman and the company he founded in 2007, Altius Education. The case briefly describes the history and landscape of higher education in the US, and provides examples of various changes and recent notable industry innovations that had taken place. Specifically, the case highlights the important role of accreditation (and Title IV funding) in higher education and how such a strong non-market force can pose serious challenges to industry disruption and innovation. Freedman founded Altius Education to make the possibility of a high-quality, affordable higher education attainable for more students, specifically part-time and working students. Altius entered into a joint venture with liberal arts college Tiffin University in Ohio to create Ivy Bridge College, a for-profit, accredited, two-year online associates degree program. Ivy Bridge offered its students success coaching and automatic transfer into bachelor’s degree programs through articulation agreements with traditional four-year colleges and universities. Altius served as the online program manager (OPM), responsible for the non-academic and technical aspects of the program, whereas Tiffin handled all aspects of the academics, curriculum design, and instruction. Years later, several events took place that led to the closure of Ivy Bridge College and the end of Altius Education. The case discusses these events and the role of non-market forces in Altius’ journey.

Learning Objective

Students should gain an understanding of the role of non-market forces in the higher education industry, and how those forces can enable or impede entrepreneurial attempts to disrupt or innovate in the space. Students will ponder if true innovation is even possible in the presence of non-market forces. Students will also learn about the power of learning from failure, and how failure is not a determinant of a person’s future success.
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