The PIE: What is University Bridge, and why 2+2 programs at community colleges?
Andrew Ullman: Simply put, University Bridge is a US pathway provider with guaranteed admissions to five of the top 40 universities. We exist at the community college level because these schools are natural pathways, [where] students either complete an associate’s degree and go out into the workforce, or they continue on as a transfer student to get a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university.
“We like to think about this as a soft-landing for international students”
Our host campuses are transfer institutions by nature. And, of course, the best part is that our partner community colleges provide hundreds of guaranteed admissions agreements, including into some amazing, top universities such as University of Virginia and UC Santa Barbara.
Hayward Majors: We like to think about this as a soft-landing for international students. The first two years at a university can be overwhelming and confusing.
Our partnerships allow our students to take the same type of introductory classes as a four-year university but with smaller class sizes and focused attention from professors. When you add to that our CollegeCare services (the name of our wraparound student services offering), students are really able to focus on doing their best in class, explore options for majors and transfer universities, and prepare for their final two years of school.
The PIE: Do elite education partners mean elite prices?
AU: Well, we are definitely more expensive than community colleges because we are providing a high-level of service that isn’t feasible for our partners to take on. Our academic advisors meet with students sometimes daily, and send translated messages to parents, as well as agents should [students] have one.
We see tremendous value in these service offerings because the guaranteed admissions agreements are, in fact, extremely difficult to navigate from start to finish. With that said, we are priced below university pathways programs and many traditional four-year universities.
HM: We are not looking to replace what our community college partners do, but we want to supplement and expand their offerings.
[Through CollegeCare] our advisors are able to help with everyday issues in life, as well as the most complicated academic concerns. We are here to be the advocate for our students, but also, sometimes the extra push that they need to succeed.
The PIE: Who is your target market?
AU: When we started the program, we were highly focused on East Asia as I lived in China for a number of years and speak some Mandarin – so I’m familiar with the region. We are very proud of our global expansion on the recruiting side of things, especially given that we are a lean team.
“We think [a diverse student body] benefits our partners and our cohort of students”
In terms of the target student, we really take a wide variety from top students with scholarships to average students who need a bit of a push. While we love seeing the Berkeley and USC acceptances, we really enjoy helping students who may think they are average, get into a school they would have never imagined they could get into. That’s the best feeling.
HM: Our goal is to have a diverse student body, as we think this benefits our partners and our cohort of students.
During the pandemic, we have actually been able to recruit students from even more countries because of our extensive online option. Students have been able to take classes online with us to try it out for one or two semesters and will be able to join us in-person by fall.
The PIE: Considering four of your programs are in the California, how do you feel about the numbers of international students opting to study in the state dropping 0.7% this year?
AU: If you look at the headline data, California actually outperformed the entire US, as the overall numbers are down 1.8% for the US. Given that California is ranked one in terms of student population by nearly 35,000 more than New York [in second], that seems like a pretty decent year as compared to the whole US.
We had launched a partnership with Santa Monica College in late 2019 and had anticipated rolling out our online capabilities with their catalog of thousands of online courses. So, the timing for that particular endeavor was great and it helped our numbers a lot this year. I’m particularly thrilled with our spring 2021 recruiting as it is tracking quite a bit ahead of expectations.
HM: [SMC’s large catalog of courses] really allowed us to continue our recruitment without missing a beat.
We shifted our offering and student services online too, to continue building a community, even while students are spread across the world. Our renewals for next year will be strong because of the online community we built and everyone’s desire to meet in person and live in the US.
The PIE: How do you feel about the wider situation US international education is in? Is it in for a comeback?
AU: I am more optimistic for fall 2021 [international recruitment] than I have been for any new intake period since we started this company. Given that the VP-elect is the child of international students and the incoming first lady is a community college professor, the messaging from the top could not be more different than the last four years.
That, coupled with the US and Europe leading the way on a Covid-19 vaccine, means I am cautiously optimistic that we’re in for a whipsaw event in terms of student recruitment into US institutions of higher ed.
UBridge has actually grown in 2020 in terms of new campus expansion with Irvine Valley College as well as with our foray into new countries for recruitment. I like where things stand. So, yes, let’s call it a US comeback but not just for numbers of new students really, I see it as dusting off the stigma of the last four years.
HM: After a year of students either taking courses online or delaying their starts, we believe that the demand for a traditional US college experience is going to be high.
The PIE: Who are your main competitors – other US providers or providers in other countries? With new partnerships at Irvine Valley and Santa Monica over the past year or so, how is UBridge expanding?
AU: I believe our main competitors are US university pathway providers as well as some programs that aim to assist community college students.
As a smaller but rapidly growing pathway provider, we see expansion in a number of ways – new campus partners [with…] a particularly unique offering, including in new states – so look for that in 2021.
Our goal with adding SMC and IVC was to ensure that we are adding value to our students in the ways they care about most. One way we seek to do that is creating UC-specific pathways.
If you want to go to UCLA it makes sense to attend a transfer school in Los Angeles. What’s even better is if that school is the top transfer school in the US into UCLA – which is what you have in Santa Monica College. The same obviously goes for our Irvine Valley College to UC Irvine transfer program, which is housed at UCI’s top transfer school.
Expansion also means that we are recruiting students from new countries. This is something we’ve worked hard to do.
The PIE: What is the final goal for UBridge?
AU: The final goal is to build a portfolio of the absolute best set of college partners that allows UBridge to become the premier US program for a broad range of international students to access the US university transfer system.
We are working towards that goal in terms of our current level of service offering, based on the success metrics we see each spring admissions cycle and from our student, parent and agent feedback. That said, we recognise that there are certain price points and universities that open up interest for students from different global regions – and we are working hard to serve them.
For example, our new host campus in Irvine has allowed us to drop our housing price significantly, while retaining the same level of service our students have come to enjoy.
HM: We have always said that we want to… provide the best experience to our students, and if that means only a select number of campus partners, that is ok with us.
[When we expand] we think it will open up another large region for recruiting or is located near one of our top transfer universities. Our students are studying at some of the best colleges with the best transfer results.
“We are adding value to our students in the ways they care about most”
They also are getting to know the local area during the first two years. If one of our students really has her heart set on UC Irvine, then spending two years studying at IVC and getting to know Irvine makes perfect sense. At the same time, we love that our students are free to apply to transfer universities across the nation.