e-learning is on the rise, with more and more students signing up to study with online universities. While users must take care in finding legitimate and accredited online courses, Latimer Education Inc. found there was still an unfilled niche—an online university that targeted African-Americans. Recently the DC-based non-profit education venture raised $1.25 million in financing through a partnership with venture capital firm Maveron to create such a digital portal. “Latimer’s founding management team, Scott Royster and Brian Jones, have successful track records building African-American focused brands and leading education sector enterprises,” said Jason Stoffer, a principal at Maveron, in a released press statement. “We believe they have identified a significant market need and opportunity that fits perfectly with our broad Internet investment strategy and our specific focus in the online education market, as demonstrated by our investments in companies like Capella Education Company (NASDAQ: CPLA), Livemocha and Altius Education.”
While Latimer declined to comment further, according to Ernest Black, Ed.D. of eBlack Education Consultant, the necessity of an online school specifically for Blacks is in question. “An online university that targets specifically African- Americans may not be necessary, but it is a sign of the times,” he notes. “The primary point of these universities is to include students who have traditionally been excluded, i.e. minorities and non-traditional students. Many of our African- American students, especially male, either forgo or are unable to complete college in a traditional setting.”
One drawback to online education, however, has been the acceptance of degrees by potential employers. “A huge negative is that many in the business world do not value or accept online degrees,” Black points out.
And with many of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) facing financial trouble, would an online university for African-Americans lure away potential students from HBCUS? Black feels HBCUs will have to find a way to compete if Latimer is successful and other such universities are launched online.
“Just as many other universities have done or are doing, the traditional HBCU will have to adapt to the changing times,” he notes. “Many universities are also reaching out to the non-traditional student with programs that can be completed online or a blended course which may meet face to face for a brief period every few weeks, but the bulk of the course is taught online. These programs offer students an opportunity to gain an online degree from a university that is also a traditional university. This will have to be an option for HBCUs if they want to continue to be financially sound as we continue into the next decade.”