VELA Founders’ Views on Growth

The scale of the challenge of improving American education is so large that it is hard to fathom. Paradoxically though, large scale efforts to improve education have often failed to live up to their advocates’ lofty promises. VELA subscribes to a different mindset. Small is A-OK. If a microschool only serves a small number of students, but serves them well, that is great. 

If we’re able to put together enough small solutions, that becomes a big solution. But not a big, centralized, slow-to-adapt, one-size-fits-some-but-leaves-a lot-to-be-desired solution. Rather it creates a more organic, nimble, pluralistic, anti-fragile solution.

VELA is excited to see successful learning environments grow. Whether this means enrolling more students, opening more iterations of their learning environment, or partnering with other founders in fruitful ways, more opportunities for more students to get an education that meets their families’ needs and priorities is a win. 

VELA recently surveyed their founders about projected growth to better understand how the organizations it supports have grown up to this point and what they would like to see in terms of growth in the future.

Forever Young

The world changed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. The education world was no exception and was forced to adapt on the fly. As a result, parents and families were given an unprecedented look into the daily grind that is K-12 education. There is little coincidence that many of the learning environments supported by VELA got their start during or in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. According to the data from the VELA survey, 71% have been operating for three years or less. Ventures that have been operating for less than a year comprise the largest share at 42%. 

Growth chart

Zooming in a bit, ventures like microschools (43%), hybrid homeschools (47%), homeschool programs (47%), and learning pods (55%) are the most likely ventures to be in their first year of operation. Perhaps not surprisingly, homeschool co-ops (40%) and private schools (44%) were the most likely to be in operation for at least three years.

Growing Up

Out of their educational environments’ relative youth, VELA founders possess a strong desire to grow. There is little doubt as to which direction these ventures want to go, as 95% say they want to expand. The question instead is, to what extent? Perhaps predictably, the majority of VELA founders not only want to grow their learning environments—they want to grow a lot. 

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of ventures want to grow a lot, while 29% say they want to grow a little. Only 3% say they want to stay the same. Another 3% are unsure about the prospect of growth. Only one single venture of the 413 surveyed said they’d like to scale back operations. 

Growth chart

 If we break this down by educational environment type, 93% of virtual schools say that they want to grow a lot. This is followed by microschools and homeschool programs, 71% of both stated that they want to grow a lot. Seventy percent of learning pods, 69% of hybrid homeschools, 56% of private schools, and 47% of homeschool co-op founders responded that they wanted to grow a lot.

More Money, More Problems?

Ventures need money to grow. In a related piece, we look at how the various educational environments that took part in the survey fund their operations. But that blog notwithstanding, it’s worth highlighting one financial piece of data from the survey that has a particular effect on growth: loans.

In the survey, founders were asked about their use of loans. As it turns out, most (72%) haven’t tried to obtain one. There is not data to answer the next question as to why nearly three in four of these ventures are not pursuing loans. Loans have their pros and cons, and maybe the founders haven’t needed enough financial help to take on the burden of debt, or perhaps they don’t know where to look. We can’t answer those questions one way or another. Either way, it is interesting that these ventures have a strong desire to grow while also not relying on loans. 

Growth chart

Among the founders that have sought financial assistance, nearly 20% looked the way of the bank or relied on family or friends. Only 5% reached out to the government for a loan. Unfortunately, 6% of founders tried to get a loan but were unsuccessful. 

Conclusions and Takeaways

Many of these ventures are relatively young in their life cycle. Because of this, surveys like the one VELA conducted and general data collection will be vital in order to better understand the growth of these educational environments. The data collected here may not draw any definitive conclusions, but there are some themes worth noting:

  1. Many of these ventures are extremely young. There is so much learning going on not only from the students these educational environments serve but also from those helping to run the show. 
  2. There is a significant desire to grow. Again, it is worth cautioning that this is just growth in general. Growth is subjective in this case, and it certainly won’t look the same depending on the type of venture. But this does point to an argument that we raised at the beginning of this piece—collective scale. Lots of small ventures collectively serving more families  means the opportunity for a great deal of positive change.
  3. Loans aren’t in the equation for most. Nearly 3 in 4 ventures have not sought financial assistance via loans. We can only speculate as to why, but this is current reality with this survey data. 

This post was authored by Colyn Ritter and Michael McShane in partnership with VELA. Colyn Ritter is a Research Associate at EdChoice. Michael McShane is Director of National Research at EdChoice.