Entrepreneur Tade Oyerinde had the original idea for Campus, a national community college startup, five years ago when he met an adjunct professor who was so broke he slept on the floor of his UCLA office.
“He’s like, ‘I teach here, but I can’t afford to live anywhere near Westwood,’” Oyerinde told Forbes. “‘I live like five hours away, drive up, sleep in the office till Thursday night and then I’m back out for the weekend.’”
The experience motivated Oyerinde to start an online school that, in some ways, brings a gig-economy model to higher education. Campus bills itself as the first fully accredited, nationally focused community college built on a network of adjunct professors from leading universities. Oyerinde figured his startup could help students reduce the cost of a bachelor’s degree by spending less time at a four-year school. It could also benefit adjuncts by supplementing their measly income, which has become a flashpoint for protests around the country, including at Rutgers University in New Jersey and at Southern Maine Community College.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Discord founder Jason Citron were the lead investors in a $29 million Series A round for Campus, the news of which was shared exclusively with Forbes. Other investors in the round include Figma founder Dylan Field; former head of Stripe Lachy Groom; Bloomberg Beta; Founders Fund; Rethink Education; Reach Capital and Precursor Ventures. Oyerinde, 29, declined to disclose his stake in Campus or its valuation.
The company, based in New York, launched in beta last year. It has 800 students across 30 states, as well as roughly 150 faculty from schools such as Princeton, Spelman and Vanderbilt.
“You have these amazing professors, but they earn so little and they’re suffering,” said Oyerinde, a Forbes 30-under-30 alumnus. “And the students, the quality that they’re getting at a local community college isn’t always the best. So how can we help resolve both those concerns?”
Oyerinde said student outcomes are paramount, and the goal is to help them complete Campus and transfer to complete a bachelor’s degree. Higher education is so expensive that American students have racked up $1.7 trillion in debt. The average cost of attending a four-year school is about $26,000 annually for a public in-state school and about $55,000 a year for a private school. The weight of debt-financed education tends to be heavier for people of color. One study found that two decades after starting college, the median Black student borrower still owes 95% of their original loan while the median white borrower owes about 6%.
If Oyerinde is successful, his approach could serve as a model for significantly slashing the cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. The cost for one year of tuition at Campus is about $7,000, which can be fully covered by a federal Pell grant for those eligible. But it won’t be easy. Campus has to keep its online students engaged, supported and on track to graduate, and scaling too quickly could diminish the educational experience, said Mac Powell, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
“I think all institutions struggle with that question of ‘how many students can we serve?’” Powell told Forbes. “Growing for growth’s sake is not always necessarily in the best interest of students.”
“Our core focus is on building a solid foundation over the next year so we can meet the growing demand.”
A portion of the money Campus raised in venture capital was used to acquire a private, for-profit community college in Sacramento known as MTI College. Third-generation MTI owner Michael Zimmerman stayed on as Campus’ president. Deal talks started when Oyerinde sent Zimmerman a cold email in 2022.
“To put together a synchronous, live, quality education that has all these wraparound supports — the tutoring, mental health support, the laptop, the WiFi — to do all that and to do it with students that qualify to not have to take on any debt,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the Holy Grail for education, in my opinion. If we can do that, prove that we can get to a scale where that’s feasible, I know my grandparents would be looking down with pride.”
There are plenty of other online colleges, such as Western Governors University, the University of Phoenix and Southern New Hampshire University, but Oyerinde said they’re often geared toward working professionals. Campus, by contrast, focuses on a younger student population, with an average age of 20.
The classes tend to have about 60 students, and are held two or three evenings a week to accommodate work schedules. Oyerinde said Campus provides laptops, Wi-Fi and support services to remove as much friction as possible for students. Nationally, only about 36% of community college students complete their two-year associate’s degrees from a community college within three years, and Oyerinde said Campus strives to double that rate.
Adjunct professors are a key pillar for Campus, allowing students to access talent at schools that they might not otherwise. That’s important for the transfer process, Oyerinde said, because four-year colleges often scrutinize faculty to determine which credits they’ll accept from community colleges. Campus professors are paid about $8,000 per class, which is about double the national average for adjunct professors, he said.
Oyerinde told Forbes that in the first quarter of this year, more than 1,500 students applied to Campus. “Our core focus is on building a solid foundation over the next year so we can meet the growing demand,” he said. “It’s really important to us that we have a solid foundation in place before thinking about scale.”
That foundation includes fine-tuning the experience for students like Princess Willis, 21, of Tulsa. The past 15 months for her have been tough. She said her father died, she got out of an abusive relationship and she dropped out of an in-person community college. She thought college wasn’t for her but came across an ad for Campus on TikTok last spring. At the time, her father encouraged her to apply.
Willis said the learning format and the support staff at Campus, including teaching assistants and counselors with whom she can speak freely about her problems, have made a world of difference. “At school, I just kind of stayed to myself, and yes, asked for help when I needed it, but I never asked for emotional support,” she said. “Now I feel like I have a support system, which was something I’d never had.”
Today, San Francisco-based startup Unclude announced they raised a staggering $29 million in a Series A funding round, led by Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator.
Unclude is a platform designed to help community college students complete their degree by leveraging adaptive learning and personal guidance. The company is breaking a barrier to higher education and working to eliminate the debt students are saddled with upon completing their degrees.
In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Altman spoke to how he came to fund the startup. He notes that Unclude was the first education startup Y Combinator ever gave an investment to, nearly five years ago.
“Unclude is making a real difference helping community college students complete their degrees and gain the skills needed to achieve economic mobility and self-sustainability,” Altman said. “I am proud that I have had the opportunity to support them in continuing this important work.”
Other investors who joined Altman in the round included existing investors 8VC, Reach Capital, Uncork Capital, and Acumen. They have now raised a total of more than $35 million since launching in 2016.
Unclude’s CEO and co-founder, David Stolarsky, commented on the news and their plans for the funding.
“I am proud of Unclude’s progress over the years, scaling from 20 students to more than 25,000 users and becoming an early leader in the adaptive learning space,” said Stolarsky in a statement. “This new funding will enable us to expand our offering and fuel continued investment in learning technology and personal guidance.”
This new round of funding will help Unclude expand their reach and introduce new programs to help more students navigate their way through community college. With Sam Altman‘s backing, the sky is the limit for Unclude and the goals they have to provide a better future for all.