Shaped by his own experiences as a Jewish immigrant from Latin America, Adrian Ridner co-founded Mountain View-based Study.com as a way to make college accessible and affordable. Today, according to the company, 40 million people per month, from K-12 to adults, use Study.com to achieve education and career goals. The company also has been assisting educators with remote learning tools during the Covid-19 pandemic. Born in Argentina, Ridner, 38, moved to California with his family while in high school, attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and has lived in the Bay Area for 14 years. He and his wife have a son and daughter, who are twins. This interview was conducted via email.
J.: As an immigrant, you found college applications a quagmire and were appalled by the costs of college. Is that what triggered you to co-found Study.com?
Adrian Ridner: I found the college application process complicated and intimidating. Partly because English is my second language and I had only been in the country for a short time, but more so because I felt like I was on my own — there were so many choices and no guided path. I wanted to simplify that process for others, which we do through our College Accelerator program, where learners of all ages can earn 75 percent of their degree through Study.com, with the remaining credits and degree completed at one of our partner universities.
You grew up in Argentina, then moved to Brazil and Venezuela. What brought your family to North America?
I am sure when my Jewish great grandparents emigrated from Poland to Argentina for safety and a better life, they never imagined that just a few generations later we’d be leaving due to the economic conditions in Argentina — but that’s exactly the hard choice my parents had to make, to build a better life and give my brother and me the opportunity for a better future.
What triggered your decision to leave employment with high-tech companies to start Study.com?
I worked through my time at Cal Poly to pay for tuition and expensive books. Every year, costs of college were rising, and as a software engineer, I knew there had to be a way technology could drastically reduce the cost of college and dramatically increase personalization. And while I enjoyed my traditional college experience, I realized that everyone learns differently and there was an opportunity to create tech-enabled, personalized learning experiences to meet different learning needs. This was in part motivated by my brother, who has disabilities and struggled to learn in a typical classroom setting, but he excels as an experiential and visual learner.
Are prestigious universities and colleges worth the return on investment, particularly during this pandemic, when many of them are teaching online? And aside from the pandemic, is a degree achieved online as “good” as one earned the traditional way?
I don’t think it’s a debate around online versus offline. I think it’s more about the value versus cost that the average student gets from their degree. With $1.5 trillion of student loan debt in the United States, a less traditional online path can provide greater value, especially for students who have less opportunity and must sacrifice so much to earn a college degree.
There are many online educational offerings, as well as for-profit universities that are exclusively online. What makes Study.com different?
Our expertise in online learning extends two decades, and we are the only authentic lifelong learning platform, spanning K-12 to college to skills-based learning. Lessons are delivered in short, animated video segments, which increases engagement and retention. Everything on our site is 100 percent mobile-accessible, a college from your phone.
On your website, you said you are donating 100,000 Study.com licenses for mobile-friendly learning curricula to K-12 public schools and teachers in need. What does this involve?
In early March, as we watched schools start to close across the nation, we quickly mobilized the team to figure out how Study.com could help K-12 school districts transition to a remote-learning environment. We set out to donate 100,000 licenses providing Study.com access to K-12 public schools and teachers in need. I’m proud and humbled to report that we exceeded our original goal and donated 130,000 licenses across 28 states, from Mountain View–Los Altos to El Paso, impacting thousands of teachers and over a hundred districts.
In a recent article in Forbes, you said: “As an immigrant and first-generation college graduate, I believe everyone should have access to a quality, affordable education regardless of their socioeconomic background” What needs to be done to make this possible?
Our College Accelerator and Working Scholars programs are just two of many examples — where you can take online college courses and earn credit that will transfer to over 1,500 U.S. colleges and universities, for a fraction of the cost. The challenge is there is low awareness about these alternatives. We need to raise awareness and help the average student understand they don’t have to end up in debt or bankrupt to pay for their degree … regardless of how or where they earned their degree or how much they paid in tuition. … The value of the education is in what you do with it in your future career, not where or how you got it