Chegg, the company perhaps best known for renting textbooks to college students, is launching a product designed to bring low-cost college counseling to high schoolers, via an interactive online platform.
The company says the technology-based system will give students exploring postsecondary options access to experienced college counselors, at a cost of $24 an hour, or 40 cents a minute. That’s a price that Chegg officials argue will amount to a bargain compared to the costly services students looking for that help pay now.
Students would access the counseling service by going through a system, the InstaEDU platform, which Chegg acquired earlier this year. High school students would connect with a cadre of college-counselors through the system, communicating by video, audio, and text. Students can get help by phone, but they have to be logged into the system, and online communication is the primary focus, according to Chegg.
Those logging in to seek advice can ask broad or narrowly focused questions about college admissions, discuss their ambitions and get feedback on the kinds of colleges that might be right for them, and upload college applications and other materials, among other services.
In an effort to make the service available to low-income students, Chegg says it will provide up to two hours of free counseling services to 10,000 registered users through ImFirst.org, an online community created by the nonprofit Center for Student Opportunity, which seeks to put first-generation and disadvantaged students on a college path. Chegg is also planning to create access to the site though mobile devices, which it believes will also create greater ease of use for students who have limited access to laptops or desktops, Bob Patterson, Chegg’s vice president of college outreach, said in an interview.
Recent reports have pointed to Chegg shifting away from the textbook-rental business and diversifying its products through acquisitions and other means. And counseling, for many students, appears to an area of need.
Students’ lack of access to counselors who can give them individualized academic and post-graduation advice has long been a concern among K-12 officials. Chegg officials cite a statistic putting the ratio of high school students to counselors in U.S. public high schools at 471-to-1, with even grimmer ratios in some individual states. As a result, some families turn to private counseling services, Chegg officials say, noting that many of those services offer only “comprehensive” counseling packages, which cost an average of $4,000 per child.
Patterson, a former director of admissions at Stanford University, was often made aware of the hurdles students have to clear to obtain reliable good college counseling. When he worked in higher education, he recalled getting an application for admissions from a student in the Los Angeles Unified school system, who had listed a counselor as a recommendation. When Patterson contacted the counselor, the school official told him: “I don’t know this student. Please see the teacher for the recommendation.”
“We’re not trying to take a job away from college counselors,” Patterson said. The goal is create a “leveling of the playing field,” whether it’s for first-generation college students or others.
Chegg will use counselors with varied experiences, in a mix of voluntary and paid roles. Some will come from private high schools, while others will be drawn from the College Advising Corps, a group that provides college counseling to students under-represented in higher education.