Miro Sutton was struggling with his calculus class at Baruch College, so he headed to the school’s tutoring service. But he was frustrated with its inefficiency. To find a free tutor, he had to go to the office in person, then wait for the service to pair him up with an appropriate instructor. To Sutton, it seemed like even more effort than studying on his own.
So Sutton and two friends – Eddie Levy, a Brooklyn College sophomore, and Saul Ancona, a sophomore at New York University’s Schack School of Real Estate – came up with an app that could ease the process. Launched last week, Prepp functions like a combination of Uber and Tinder. Students select the course they’re in and then choose from a list of relevant tutors, messaging them through the app to set up a meeting.
Private tutoring is one of today’s fastest-growing industries, estimated to approach $103 billion by 2018. At the same time, digital is transforming the education sector: enrollment in online education is surging, and ed tech funding increased in the past quarter after peaking in 2015. A growing number of tech companies focus on the area, like digital college textbook startup RedShelf, which raised $4 million last month. Searching for “tutors” on the App Store yields more than 20 companies hoping to take advantage of these trends, from new entries like Prepp to more established players like WyzAnt, which raised $21.5 million in 2013 and now boasts more than 80,000 tutors.
“As part of the Uber generation, we were surprised there was no similar solution for students that need tutoring in real time,” Tyler Makhani, one of the founders of Los Angeles-based Tutors, told me. “It’s difficult and expensive to get a tutor in Los Angeles, but easy to obtain other goods and services, such as food deliveries and Uber cars. Then it came to us—why not bring tutors into this new on-demand economy?”
Like Prepp, Tutors lets you browse tutor profiles, then book a session with your desired instructor. As with dating apps, however, there is a question of trust. How do you guarantee that the people in the profiles are who they say they are?
“With other apps, you’ll have some guy who claims to do well in physics, but he’s not actually a university student,” Ancona said. “The way we approve our tutors is we get their transcripts and they can only tutor for a course where they’ve gotten an A- or above.”
WyzAnt and Tutors also say they run background checks on tutors before letting them show up on the platform, and Tutors employs an Uber-like rating system, where both users and tutors assign their sessions a certain number of stars. “Just like the popular ride sharing apps, if a tutor falls below a certain star rating threshold they’ll be suspended from the platform,” Makhani said.
Unlike Uber, however, these apps do not use an algorithm to determine pricing. Instead, tutors set their own rates, from which the companies take a small percentage. Hour-long sessions booked on Tutors start at $10; Prepp recommends that tutors begin asking for $30 and sets a $45 ceiling. WyzAnt rates range from $20 to $160. “The marketplace adjusts itself to what people are willing to pay within that market,” WyzAnt communications director Abigail Hunt told me.
As apps like Prepp become increasingly common on university campuses, tech-savvy students may no longer have to rely on administrators to shape their educational environment.
“Today people care about convenience and simplicity. Having to go to an office and speak to someone over a desk, to meet someone who you don’t even know is good – it’s so outdated,” Ancona said.