An Educated Guest

Ep. 14 | Improving Mental Health in Higher Ed


Guest: Michael London, CEO, Uwill 

 

Todd Zipper, President of Wiley Education Services, welcomes Michael London, CEO of Uwill, a technology-based platform that connects students with experienced mental health professionals.

Todd and Michael discuss Uwill’s mission and how higher ed can continue to expand its mental health access for students in need. Listen to their conversation on your favorite podcast platform.   

Topics Discussed:

  • How Uwill compliments campus-based resources to provide increased access to students requiring more flexibility
  • The need for universities to understand and address the high percentage of students who are struggling and not seeking help
  • The importance of providing mental health support as a central service

Guest Bio

Michael London is the CEO of Uwill and has over 20 years of experience in EdTech. In 2013, Michael founded Examity, the world leader in learning validation and online proctoring. Over a five-year period, the company grew to more than 1,000 employees and $30 million in revenue. Previously, he was the founding CEO for Bloomberg Institute, funded by Mayor Bloomberg and Bloomberg Ventures. Their flagship solution was offered in more than 500 universities and 45 countries.

Michael is a current Trustee at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and The Rivers School, as well as a Member of the Advisory Board at Babson College, where he graduated with honors. He received his MBA from Boston University. 



View Transcript

Speaker 1:
You’re listening to An Educated Guest, a podcast that brings together great minds in higher ed to delve deeper into the innovations and trends guiding the future of education and careers. Hosted by the president of Wiley Education Services Todd Zipper.

Todd Zipper:
Hello, this is Todd Zipper, a host of An Educated Guest. On today’s show, I speak with Michael London the CEO of Uwill, a technology based platform that connects students with experienced mental health professionals. Michael is an expert in education technology. In 2013, he founded Examity the world leader in learning validation and online proctoring. And in 2019, he was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year and held a position on the Massachusetts governor’s commission for digital education and lifelong learning. The key takeaways from our discussion today, first traditional colleges have long had mental health counseling services, but this can no longer be the only practical solution.

Todd Zipper:
Uwill compliments campus-based resources to provide increased access to those requiring more flexibility and ensuring nothing gets in the way of helping someone when they need it. Second, while 14% of current online learners used mental health and counseling services in the past year, it’s critical to understand and address that delta of most likely higher percentage of students who need help. And lastly, the importance of providing mental health support as essential service cannot be underestimated. Hello Michael, and thank you for being here today on An Educated Guest.

Michael London:
Thank you so much for having me.

Todd Zipper:
All right. So for the past 20 years, you have been a leader in the edtech space. Can you walk us through some of the original companies you founded and how that has led you to your latest venture in Uwill?

Michael London:
Most definitely. It all started in my mid 20s, and the first company that I started was called College Coach. And that company was college coaching, but I have to say I’m going to be 52, so it was a long time ago. So college coaching wasn’t so common way back then. And the thinking there was that we could get employers to pay for that solution as a benefit for the employees that had kids. Did that for a while, it was successful. Sold it to Bright Horizons Family Solutions. And Bright Horizons and I and Bain Capital started a company now called EdAssist that had a different name that was even worse, believe it or not. And that was the second venture that I was a part of.

Michael London:
And I did that for a bit, had a stint at Kaplan and then went and did startups for Mayor Bloomberg and Bloomberg Ventures specifically around education. I was the CEO of something called Bloomberg Institute. And there, there was the recognition that if people took online tests, there was a high propensity that they would be cheating. And so with that realization, once my time was up at Bloomberg, I said, “I’m going to try and fix that problem,” and I started something called Examity. And we were a leader in learning validation and online proctoring. I did that for seven and a half years. I’m still on the board there now. And we eventually sold the majority first to University Venture, and then eventually to Great Hill Partners. After that, I said, “Okay, I’ve done all these different things. I’m obviously an edtech entrepreneur, I’m a social impact entrepreneur, but I want to tackle what I think is the biggest problem within higher ed.”

Michael London:
Fortunately, I knew a lot of people and I was able to pick their brains. And a bunch of things came up, but the thing that just got to me was a number of them mentioned mental health on campus was a huge issue. And then the whisper was, and we don’t know what to do about it. And I thought, wow, that would be a good one for me. It’s a little bit more amorphous, it’s something big. And if I’m able to do it well, it would be the most meaningful of all. And that’s why I started Uwill. So that’s truly my history. And at any time, I can get into more detail on any of that stuff.

Todd Zipper:
That’s excellent and hits the main topic of today, which is around mental health on college campuses. So I’m going to provide some context and then we’re going to jump into some questions here. I think it’s pretty common knowledge now that colleges over the last couple decades have been doing work to eliminate the stigma of mental health counseling, providing resources as best they can trying to keep up. But of course, even as students have been taking colleges up on this service, the increase in anxiety, depression, and even worse has gone up in campuses and society at large. Then you get 2020 and the pandemic, which just throws everything on its head. And from all the data that I can see, there was a stat I read in June 2020, the CDC released a report stating that 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse.

Todd Zipper:
I mean, that is in the hundreds of millions I would think at this point. And then when you go to higher ed specifically, we did a survey at Wiley, a report called the voice of the online learner last August. And we learned that 14% of current online learners used mental health and counseling services in the past year. I mean, that’s hundreds of thousands if you do the math on that. So let’s start by talking about Uwill and how it fits into this crisis of mental health that we’re facing today on college campuses.

Michael London:
Sure. So pre-pandemic, the two stats that were hitting home for me happened to have been, number one, that the large majority of students said that their mental health was affecting their academics. And then secondly, in an unrelated but related study, the majority of students that actually dropped out of college had a documented mental illness. So those were the true drivers for me coupled with the conversations I had with actual people. That’s really where it started, and I was thinking a lot about how with the online schools in particular, how they’re spending so much money bringing people on, and then they’re losing them. And is this really why they’re losing them? Because no one would quite say you’re losing everybody because they have mental illness, no one’s going to go that far, but was that really the reason? And so that’s really where it started.

Michael London:
And then as we started to get underway, obviously you just mentioned the pandemic, and that happened. And I was thinking, “Oh, I should have started this a year ago because this is an incredible challenge. And we’re uniquely qualified to be able to help people during this time.” And really, that was it. There was just so much. And to your point, traditional colleges have had the health center with a mental health section forever. That’s been the way it’s always been done. And I think that it was working okay at least because no one was saying anything. So it seemed to be fine. And then I think what happened was as mental health, the stigma lessened, that was no longer a practical solution. And you get people who are in those positions on campus to say we can’t out hire the need, there’s no possible way for us to get there.

Michael London:
And so we came as an outgrowth of all of that. I will mention also that given that I had an edtech background, that didn’t hurt. And also that there were a lot of counselors in private practice who what realized was they were able to make a good living, but they weren’t really working a full week making their good living. They were just making a good living per hour. So they wanted to work more hours, and they loved working with students, and they loved working on good technology because of the emergence of teletherapy. So all this came together, and that’s why Uwill came to be.

Todd Zipper:
Can you talk a little bit about the benefits and shortcomings of teletherapy versus in-person sessions? We have this image of a patient laying on the couch and getting work through and work done through a counselor. Obviously, that’s not how most of this plays out, but how are you starting to see that you have a lot of numbers now? Is there a difference? Obviously there is a difference, but do you see any benefits or shortcomings in the two different models?

Michael London:
First, it’s easiest for me to talk about the benefits of teletherapy. First of all, the flexibility and availability is certainly better these days, it’s just easier to schedule when you need to schedule. And I would say that’s kind of the way students want it, whether they’re traditional or adult students, they tend to want things when they have the time to be able to do them. So I think those are benefits. If we’re in a world today where people are looking to get the kind of person that they want to help them not just the person who finally was able to take their insurance and they wanted that person somewhat quickly, teletherapy again has a pretty big advantage. Studies show they’re similarly effective, there are some things that I wouldn’t even want to try to talk about them. But there could be some very complicated situations where face-to-face is better.

Michael London:
So sure, no question. But for the most part, they’re similarly effective. I think for students in particular, teletherapy gives more privacy. So just as an example, if someone wants chat therapy, they could be doing it wherever they want to do it. They don’t need to go somewhere, sit in a waiting room, sign their name, see who else is in there today. They don’t have to do that stuff. So I think those are all advantages. I think some of the disadvantages of teletherapy, I think that the state law associated with licensing, which I bet you’re going to want to talk about more later, they haven’t alleviated those for the most part. So you don’t get that advantage.

Michael London:
You can’t have a California counselor help someone from Massachusetts, that’s just not how it works. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t. One of the cons of teletherapy would be just a lack of body language if you’re not doing video. In video, I think you can pretty much tell how someone’s reacting to what you’re saying and how they’re feeling by their face and their shoulders, even their hands. But sometimes if someone is messaging or chatting or even on the phone, that is not quite as easy to do.

Todd Zipper:
We’ve talked about the learner, the students, and the challenge that they have and why this is such an attractive platform for them, the university as well. Can we talk about the counselor? The center of the story here is the counselor and the quality of their backgrounds, their education, and their ability to help these students improve so they can stay in classes and become happier and have a better life and more success in education. Walk us through how you recruit these people, what do they like, where do they come from? How does the economic model work with them? If you can talk about that a little bit.

Michael London:
Sure. So we are always recruiting good counselors, there’s certainly competition to get good counselors. I think our advantage in being able to get them is the fact that we’re not trying to hire them full-time, we’re trying to hire them and be a really good compliment to whatever they have going in their full-time job. Some counselors are giving us their afternoons, some counselors are giving us their nights, some are giving weekends. That said, we’re able to put together a schedule by state that will allow for all the students who are using the platform to have someone if they need someone. We’re also able to hire with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind because we can build our team how we want to build our team within a respective state.

Michael London:
So how do we get them? Too many things to share, but certainly traditional recruiting. Fortunately, a lot of them are calling us. We are interviewing all of them. By multiple people within our organization, they’re all background checked, they’re all license checked. One thing that’s really hard, and I agree with the question now, one thing that’s really hard is to say, “Hey, is he a good therapist? Is she a good therapist?” Because that is in the eye of the beholder. I will say however because we have AI built into our platform, the students help tell who is a good therapist because there are actual evaluations of the therapist, the therapist doesn’t see it.

Michael London:
On the other hand, future searches are influenced by those evaluations. So as an example, if a therapist was chosen by us to be as part of our platform, and that therapist did not do well with the students, that therapist is not going to come up in searches anymore. They’re going to go down, down, down and eventually be canceled out. So I’d say we have a technology driven solution that helps us to ensure some level of quality. In addition, we’re able to do something I think that ensures quality. And again, that’s using the technology. The idea that someone can say you’re from New York, so you need a New York therapist, you want a male. Right there, that’s hard. There aren’t as many male therapists. And also you want some who’s available on your time. You might be, I get home at 6:00 PM, I want to do this between 6:00 and 7:00 weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever you need. And you want to be able to do it with someone who has the availability at that time.

Michael London:
That’s all in the algorithm and the choice. And so we’re able to do that kind of matching in a way that no one else has tried to do. But the quality is truly maintained by the feedback that we’re getting. And so far, so good. Our ratings are super high. Again, they’re not published, but they are well over a 9 on 10 after counseling I guess 25,000 plus students thus far. More students have the ability to use us, but fortunately not everyone needs to use us.

Todd Zipper:
So it sounds like without some of the public aspects of Yelp reviews or Uber reviews, it has a similar sort of naturally floating rating system. That the cream sort of rises the top, and also the things that they might get rated on specifically might then, like you said, come up in specific type of searches, which by itself allows a learner, a student to get more of what they want. So that’s a really exciting feature that obviously when you show up on a college campus, you kind of get what you get when you go to one of these centers. That could be a huge, huge plus here. Let’s talk about state licensure because I know that’s near and dear to my heart around online education and what you could teach students. Out of state and the craziness of that where the regulation didn’t keep up with the technology. Are you seeing similar challenges here? Can you have a therapist in California working with somebody in New York?

Michael London:
So we can’t. I think you said that really well, the licensure, the state regulations are not necessarily keeping up with the technology and the ability to serve the students. That said, during the pandemic, there were many states that did alleviate some of the challenges that you’re alluding to. On the other hand, we as an organization couldn’t bank on that long term. So we actually have the counselors in all 50 states to ensure that regardless of who calls, there’s the right person for that individual. I’d like to believe that someday a California counselor, although California’s is expensive too probably. We need an inexpensive state, I don’t know which one that is these days. But someone could service New York as an example. And I’d like to say that that’s going to happen, although people smarter than I claim that some of that has to do with the way taxes are paid and states aren’t so quick to give up the revenue associated with that.

Michael London:
So I’m not holding my breath, but we’re okay either way. When I think about it, we’re a technology solution, but we’re really a two-sided platform. We need to have our own team of counselors. So unlike what you see in the real world in healthcare in particular where there’s a network all the time. We’re going to, “Oh, you can use our network.” Network is to me synonymous with doesn’t work. So usually when someone has to go into a network, you can be assured that you will not have the person that you hope to have in a reasonable amount of time. So we’re taking on that added challenge because we know it’s the right thing to do to be able to serve the students.

Todd Zipper:
So how did you think about outcomes? You have these students going through, the patients, if you will, you have the universities, the colleges, partners, the therapists, what are your KPIs at Uwill?

Michael London:
So in the shortest term because of the situation that we are all in, our KPIs are truly around being able to serve the students that have need. That right now seems to be the biggest driver, the greatest need that schools have. If a student has that need and says, “I really need to talk to someone. It’s not an emergency, I don’t need to go to the emergency room. I’m just really feeling awful about whatever the situation is. And I have time tomorrow before class, before 9:00 AM.” If we can give that person a person that’s going to work for that individual, that to me is number one. Can we actually do this? I think to a lesser extent, although it wouldn’t be if there was a problem, the platform has to work. So we are really using technology.

Michael London:
Traditionally, the world has used a backroom of individuals who are literally making calls. Can you take a person? Can you take a person? Can you take a person? Oh, I know this guy, he’ll do me a favor, he’ll take a person. We’re not doing that. So our technology and it working all the time is of critical importance secondly. And so those would be the two things that I look at. Thirdly would be how we are rating to the students. And so that would be third. Specifically around outcomes. Something we’re going to work on as soon as the mad rush stops, we are going to … Originally, we built the platform to have what I’d call no friction.

Michael London:
I don’t want to do anything that gets in the way of giving someone the help they need when they need it. And people do love that. On the other hand, smart people in the medical profession say you have to look at the outcomes. And so we are now piloting specific improvement of the individual student. And that’s something that we’re going to be able to share with the schools. Currently, it’s not how we’re doing it because it’s really can you help our students now? It’s almost faster than you could ever believe someone might have these needs given the times that we’re in.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. I mean, it’s in the early stages of this tech solution. But the idea that you could map what you do to a student staying in classes, retaining, doing better in their courses, being happier, whether that’s self-reported would be amazing because it really could show the efficacy of this. I want to switch gears a little bit to your partnerships with colleges because that’s your main customer here. And in particular, a story that got my attention was earlier this semester, and we’re only in early November here around the University of North Carolina and the slate of suicides and attempted. I mean, the numbers I think are not even reported, but it was a real crisis on campus.

Todd Zipper:
I think they shut the school down for at least a day. From the national story, we know that Uwill stepped in here to help. So can you talk about that situation? And it kind of starts to make sense that we go through these series of crises on college campuses, whether it’s that or a natural disaster or something that happens that all of a sudden people’s mental health negatively will spike. Maybe you can walk us through what you can that scenario and how you helped this large institution in North Carolina.

Michael London:
Sure. And I think we were in University of North Carolina, and we were both fortunate that we were in conversations around working together before the tragedies. I think that that’s really important. It wasn’t like they had this bad thing happen, “Hey, we’re calling Uwill.” They really were good thinkers, and they were proactive. They knew what a lot of the schools know today, and that’s it’s almost impossible for a campus center no matter how good that campus center is to always have the availability that students need. But fortunately, we’re already in it together. It did prompt us to mobilize a little bit faster. Usually, we love 60 days, we always get 30 days, we did this one a little bit faster. And I do think that that is really important. For us, that means that there is a little bit of tailoring of the technology.

Michael London:
There is the idea that obviously they’re a school that’s national, but yet we needed to have a good number of counselors in North Carolina. So we couldn’t go and do it without that kind of work. What’s funny is clearly they had an unfortunate situation, it was in the news. It’s a really strong group. I actually admire them very much because they’re open and honest about the fact that we’re able to help. Because in a lot of cases when we’re speaking to our schools and we actually want to promote the work we’re doing, “Oh no, we don’t want to promote that,” you just kind of be behind the scenes. They took a different approach, they were proud of themselves I think about the fact that they found us and we together are tackling the problem. We are working with students already, so it’s been that quick. Things are going quite well as I understand it. I think it’s a campus certainly well on the mend, and they’re a really good partner for us.

Todd Zipper:
It leads to the question, I’ve been working with universities for, call it, a couple decades almost now. Do they see this service as a threat? Do they say things like you don’t know our students, those kinds of things and how we operate here, how is that going down?

Michael London:
So there’s always been counseling on campuses. And then I’d say there’s always been some level of third party partners that existed. I think the partners that existed traditionally came in two flavors. One reminded me most of the EAP in a corporation, which as you probably know hasn’t done that well in the corporation. So that’s not doing any better in a school. And then I think secondly they were the groups that were almost looking to have them outsource the solution to them. And so we didn’t want to be either of those. We wanted to be this really good compliment to what they were doing, and we wanted to be collaborative. And so the way that we were able to do that is one, we really get to know each other well on the front end, we learn their protocols, we learn their expectations.

Michael London:
That’s all embedded in the system so an individual counselor understands not only how to counsel, but also the way a college might think about certain things, for example, emergency protocols, et cetera. So that’s part of it. The other is the sharing of information. The cop out is, oh, FERPA and HIPAA, we can’t share anything with anyone. That’s not entirely true as you probably know. It’s just doing things in a proper way so that they can have all the information they need. And so for us, our ability to be collaborative in that way, we actually have a product called Ucollaborate. That is why I think groups are gravitating more to us because we really just want to be part of the team. There’s always going to be a need for a physical human being on campus for those traditional schools and maybe many of those individuals for that matter.

Michael London:
But I think there’s also always going to be a need for something like what we’re doing where we’re able to allow a student to cast a wider net in terms of getting a counselor, eliminate waitlists, help that student after hours, deal with non-traditional students and the needs that they have. I mean, there’s a lot to it. I love the partnership, the collaboration, and the coexistence. Is anyone threatened? I think that probably within a counseling center you might get someone who thinks quickly and gets the idea that we’re one of those groups that was here in the past, but we’re not. We think very differently about it, and our clients would be really quick to say that’s our strategy.

Todd Zipper:
Help me understand the economics here. So you’ve got the student, you’ve got the university, you have healthcare plans, whether the students are on it through their parents or what have you. Who ultimately pays for this service?

Michael London:
Our core offering, which we call Umatch is immediate access to a licensed therapist based upon your preferences and need. And that is school makes a purchase and student receives that at no cost, no insurance, no anything. I will say that we have some really great counselors who say, “I want to work with students, and I want the part-time work. And I want to work on this great technology platform.” And so they’re very fair around the prices that they charge, which allows us to be very fair around the prices we charge to schools. So it works especially well that way. If ever there was a school, I will say we’re kind of an anti referral company. But if we ever had to refer after the fact for whatever reason, we’ve been effective at referring into our own family of counselors so that it can still stay part of the solution and can work for the student. And in that case, we could take that insurance if that’s what it was. 99 times out of 100, simply school pays

Todd Zipper:
Because it leads to my next question around these direct to consumer platforms. Before the pandemic, I think telemedicine was probably next to zero, it’s probably one of the most disrupted industries in the market. And then you had a cold or whatever you had, you’re now talking to your doctor or your nurse practitioner through a Zoom or through a phone or what have you. I went through that myself. You’ve also seen the explosion of some of these services like BetterHelp So do you see an opportunity to go direct to consumer?

Michael London:
To start off, obviously the Talkspaces and the BetterHelps, they have a direct to consumer model. What’s hard for me about that model, there’s a couple things. The main one is that it seems as though they are basically taking the edtech unicorn model, except they’re not an edtech. So they’re basically saying we’ll spend whatever it takes to get that customer, so cost of lead … And I know you know more about that than I do, by the way. We’ll spend anything to get the customer. And then in the end when you look at the financials, you find that their revenue and marketing spend are pretty much the same. So to me, that means people smarter than me about consumer marketing have not yet figured out how to successfully attract students and get them to spend real money.

Michael London:
That said, so we are higher ed, that’s what we do. That’s our focus, that’s really our advantage. I would say one of the things that we see now is some of those kind of groups, they go and try to talk to the schools because they’re trying to find a way to make money. And they look at schools as a channel. And of course, they’re a channel. But what if the school says, “Hey, can you integrate with our student information system”? They don’t even know what that is. Or, “Hey, can you train our administration on how to identify and refer people into the platform?” They don’t do that. They are what you said they were, they’re a retail platform, a consumer platform.

Michael London:
So I think we have good advantages in what we do, we’re focused on higher ed. That’s really all we want to do. Secondly, we do a little work in the high school world, and we could talk about that in a little while. But we’re we’re education. And we like to believe that we are edtech and digital health combined. And that’s why this is working as well as it is. Those groups could do what they do, we will coexist in that way. I don’t anticipate us going that route, it’s just not our business model.

Todd Zipper:
So that leads me to my next question, you mentioned about high schools. This market is probably larger, and kids that are coming of age in some cases way more sensitive. We’ve obviously as a country experienced these horrific tragedies, school shootings, et cetera. So help me understand whether this is a market you feel like you can translate. Given that you’re so focused on understanding the education market at the higher ed level, can you come down to the K12 level?

Michael London:
It’s a good question. We’ve decided thus far that we can certainly do well in high schools. And we’ve also decided that we are better equipped to work with large groups of high schools that are tethered together in some way. You as someone who’s in the New York area, you probably know Uncommon Schools and Success Academy, so we work with those. They’re really good clients, the students have needs, we can market together. We can think a little bit bigger because they do have a number of schools under their umbrella. And for that, we’re able to do it. We did have to make some tweaks to add parental forms. It’s not exactly the same, but there are similarities. Sorry to keep talking about New York, but New York in particular’s a very hard market for this because if someone lives in the city, there were people who, I don’t take any insurance, and we’re $300 for a session.

Michael London:
So that eliminates a lot of the people, so they’re not going to be able to get that. So for us to be able to do something a little bit tricky and possibly take a counselor from upstate New York who’s doing the work with the person in the city. That’s magical to an underprivileged student in high school as an example. And so we’re really proud of that work, we think it’s going to continue. But the focus is definitely higher ed and potentially larger charter school groups at least as of today.

Todd Zipper:
I noticed that you also have a deal with the Massachusetts department of higher ed. So there’s a lot of ways you can tackle this higher ed market. You can do a deal with a university, a set of universities or an entire department like this. I mean, what is the ideal way to enter the market or is it an all of the above situation?

Michael London:
I think for us our best customer is truly the university. It sounds like university, oh, that’s so simple. But I think people who are probably listening know there’s so many different types of people that go to a university. Are you my daughter who is 18 years old at the University of Miami? Are you a 32-year-old adult learner learning online who is dealing with a childcare issue as well and that’s what’s getting you down? You need to have that level of appreciation. And so there’s a lot of complexity in higher ed in our opinion, so we really want to focus there. Systems are great. We actually have a few systems that are either clients or that we’re working toward making clients.

Michael London:
I think the one thing with the system-wide agreements are that the individual schools are still able to do basically what they want to do. And so that said, it’s a really good credential to have the large systems, but you still have to sell the groups one at a time for the most part. There’s a lot of autonomy at least from my experience. You pump your chest a little bit when you get one of those, but then, okay, that’s the start, you didn’t win yet. That’s the approach that we’ve taken and we’ll continue to take going forward.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. The learner is their customer, they are really responsible. And so you could see how the connection there has to be tight. I want to talk about the stigma of therapy and mental health in general. It does seem to be dissipating. I just watched an incredible document memory about Mardy Fish. I grew up playing tennis, never forget when he frankly wasn’t able to show up to his probably the biggest match of his life against Roger Federer. And he talked all about that in the documentary. I noticed on your website you got Darryl MacDaniels of Run-DMC, which I’m a huge fan of. Saying it’s tricky in my fifth grade of variety shows, so it’s got a fond memory there.

Todd Zipper:
And he talks about his challenges over the years, which is just amazing when you see these personalities, these folks that are supposed to be untouchable and perfect stand up and really talk about their struggles. How do you think that’s helping? I’m a little skeptical that the stigma isn’t there, even if great people are talking about it or well known people. For a kid, it still is what it is. It’s still something that hits hard. And whether they’re willing to deal with it or not, I’m sure they’re facing the same challenges they did 10, 20 or 30 years ago. What are your thoughts on this?

Michael London:
So with Darryl in particular, what I really like about having him as part of the team is that he tells his story where he was on the top of the world. He got the first rock and roll Adidas contract, was the first sneaker contract ever. He was a celebrity, he couldn’t walk down the street. He was truly just of college age, he was at St. John’s. He was a college kid too. All that was happening and he’s like, “Everything seemed perfect, and I wanted to kill myself,” and he couldn’t explain why. To me, when people talk about stigma or is the stigma gone, I think it’s way better now than it’s ever been. By the way, teletherapy is helping that because it’s so much easier and more comfortable these days. But when I think about that, this guy was riding high and he wanted to kill himself. But he doesn’t know why, he didn’t have a reason. Now, he has a good story and he could tell you a lot of reasons why.

Michael London:
But when it was happening, he didn’t know. And he eventually went into therapy and therapy saved him. So I love his story. I also happen to love the fact that … It was actually a big debate, oh, is he a good spokesperson for you? I’ll tell you why I think he’s great. People like me remember him as a kid. Run-DMC was as big as it could ever get. And then you have the kids, they all know them now because all these TikTok videos, all these it’s trickies. Those songs are still here, and so it’s actually perfect. Almost too good sometimes, and I think a very underestimated individual on the team is him. So he’s super great, always willing to speak. But the overall stigma, I think it’s like this. When you said 14%, I think that’s probably a very accurate figure, 14% of the people received help. But what if 50% of the people needed help?

Michael London:
So that delta, is that because of insurance and referrals? Maybe. Is that because of stigma? Maybe. Is that because of money? Maybe. That to me is the opportunity I think to make a huge difference in this. And so I believe stigma is still a part of it. We actually, not to jump on the high schools, but we actually see it more in the high schools. The need is every bit is great, yet it’s very difficult for individuals to receive therapy. And I would say one thing that’s hard but it’s a must, they need to get permission from parents. So that’s another person you have to talk to or tell that you’re feeling bad where a college student can go and just do this. I do think that’s also something that’s hard. And I can’t imagine, again, I’m super old, but I can’t imagine trying to tell my back then, “Hey, I really have anxiety, I really feel down.” Because really I did I think, but you didn’t even know that that’s something you could do.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. It’s the outlet, how do you trigger that event because there’s a lot of shame involved and it’s terrible?

Michael London:
It’s terrible.

Todd Zipper:
You guys are tackling such an enormous problem. So look out 10 years, what does success look like for you?

Michael London:
Well, when we talk internally, we always say the same thing. We have all this great technology, we have great counselors, we’re working with schools, but we just want to help as many people as we can. That’s it. So how many people can we really help? So there’s two ways we look at it. One would be how many schools could we possibly work with? And you probably have good figures. We always say, “There’s probably 5,000 in the US, there’s another 15,000 worldwide. So how about those? Let’s get those.” And then it’s how many students can we get? And you look at it and say, “Well, we already have 6, 700,000 lives that we’re touching, but we’re not obviously helping that many people, we’re helping a subset of that like maybe 4% of that or 5% of that.”

Michael London:
And so we’re really excited to be able to just get more. And to us more is not just simply counseling, we’ve created a wellness platform specifically for students that works on a credit system. Something that for the most part people can relate to in education these days. And it has immediate access to a counselor, it has what happens in an emergency situation. It has the ability for people who aren’t ready for counseling to utilize group type activities, whether that be group counseling, addiction, Addiction Anonymous. It could be meditation. So there’s a lot here. And so for us, we just want to help as many people as possible and further the platform so people can just know that if you’re a student, this is the place you go, this is where you want to be. And if we’re able to do that successfully, we are accomplishing a whole lot, and I think success will come.

Todd Zipper:
I think it’s great that you’re working directly with the university because mental health isn’t just one thing. It’s not just an hour session each week, which is certainly better than not having it. It’s a whole bunch of things. And if the university takes that learner seriously, their journey with them, they’re going to have to tackle this issue from so many different directions. Uwill will help in a lot of that for sure, and I’m so glad to see this is happening. So I’m going to switch gears for a second, we got a few minutes left here. Since I’ve got an edtech serial entrepreneur, I wanted to get your thoughts on the market is changing so much in higher ed even though it often doesn’t feel like it’s changing because we’ve had universities around for centuries and probably will be around for centuries more.

Todd Zipper:
But you get things like the MOOCs, the Courseras the edXes, which when you founded Examity in 2013 basically hardly existed. They existed for let’s say a year. Now, you got them talking about tens of millions, 80 million learners on Coursera, 40 something on edX. These are now becoming trusted platforms for learners, for corporations to expect the mastery of knowledge to happen. Given that your experience in online proctoring and learning validation, can the technology keep up with this kind of scale?

Michael London:
That’s a very good question. I think the technology can. It’s like in anything else, it’s really the people who are both building and administering that technology and deploying that technology, can they imagine and understand the customer and the needs, whether it’s the workforce, whether it’s a student who’s going off the schools and is afraid of taking calculus? Whatever this is, can they understand it well enough because the technology works. These platforms are great, I’ve used them personally, I think they’re really great. It’s funny I was thinking you were going in the direction of Examity because I often wonder sometimes those courses, they’re not proctored, and they are giving someone a credential of sorts depending upon what they are. And sometimes even a degree.

Michael London:
I think all online learning is good and good for the space, I think the technology is there. I think it can always get better. I guess I’m an old fashioned tech guy, I like support too from people. I believe people are necessary in this equation all the time. So it’s not a coincidence at Examity I had some live proctors too. It’s not a coincidence we have real counselors at Uwill. I believe in people to be able to compliment what’s being done with technology. So I guess I’m probably an edtech enabled service type. Those groups in particular, I mean, look, what they’re doing is really cool. Sorry to talk my daughter twice in this, I wanted her to learn Excel before she went off to college. She went on and learned Excel before she went on to college.

Michael London:
I mean, that’s great. We couldn’t have done that, we didn’t have a way to do that. We had to go and learn it in class like it was this new, crazy thing. I’m excited by the work that they’re doing, and I’m pleased that those groups in particular continue to flourish. I’m hopeful that the technology evolves accordingly possibly with more proctoring in some cases. Because I do believe that unlike in some universities, it’s harder for them to create what I would consider to be very effective tests. So their tests do have more A, B, C and true false. Because of that, it does lend itself to cheating. And if the credential is going to hold the weight as it seems to these days, there is a need for additional efficacy in what people are doing.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. It seems like the technology still has aways to go around the gates. I was listening to somebody on some podcast talk about how you can just keep moving through the process as long as you show up. But you’re not really getting told, “Yeah, you’re mastering these concepts, now you’re ready to move forward,” because you’re getting a test graded somehow and it’s good enough so you move on. Before we wrap up, you’re are at this nexus of health tech and edtech, any other innovations that are catching your eye these days?

Michael London:
I’m not going to be the me too guy that says AI and competency based learning, I do think those are pretty good though. Here’s something that I see, it’s partly because I’m on the board of a couple different schools. And I will say I am seeing the traditional college, the traditional university fighting back for the very first time. So that’s kind of cool to me in that they are, I don’t know … Obviously, I’m in Massachusetts, the UMass system just acquired Brandman. That’s neat. And then I think about how, I’m talking to an academic dean who said for the first time every single class that we offer on campus will be offered concurrently online. That’s great. Look at what you’re doing. I also see something maybe simple, they’re just borrowing some of the good stuff from online.

Michael London:
At first, everyone looked down on online, oh, online, can’t be that good. And, then people realized, “Wow, they’re doing a lot of stuff that’s absolutely incredible.” So some of the schools are borrowing it like mentors, and it’s happening. To me, it’s not necessarily the technology per se, it’s the realization that, hey, we have smart people in real schools too, and we can do some of that and honestly applaud you for your efforts in doing that in the online world. And we’re going to get better and offer more choice to consumers. That to me is pretty exciting. I know not a lot of people are it that way, but that’s how I see it.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. I think the way you just ended even using the word consumer, I’m hearing that increasingly more in higher ed of talking about their students as the consumer, and increasingly universities putting that student or learner at the center of the model. And you can see that over the last decade, some of the most successful institutions like Southern New Hampshire and Western Governors, ASU, that’s kind of their model and it’s worked. So what is one thing you would like to ensure our listeners walk away understanding from our conversation today?

Michael London:
Mental health in particular is no different. If you’re a student on campus and you’re having a mental health issue, you need help. And schools do have an obligation in that area probably no different from how they have to serve food, make sure people have books and internet. It’s no different, it’s maybe more important in some cases even. And I think the world, for some reason, didn’t see it quite that way. And now I think they definitely know that that’s the case. The importance of this opportunity and challenge can’t be underestimated, and we’re just excited to be able to be part of it.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. It sounds like it’s a primary essential service not a nice to have secondary service, and I couldn’t agree more.

Michael London:
Yeah, that’s right.

Todd Zipper:
So to finish up, I ask this of all my guests, part of what we love about education is that we all have learning champions. So who has been a learning champion for you, and how has that person helped you in your life?

Michael London:
Well, I’m going to probably be a little different and I’m going to give you a few. I have a few friends in education and education technology who have done things that impress me, and I try and listen and learn from the things that they do. One would be my original business partner Steven Kramer, he’s the CEO of Bright Horizons. And what I think is really special about his mindset is … You learn in school that you have to have the customer. And if you have the customer, you can offer them varying solutions that are important for that individual. And I think in his case, he’s actually done that. And when I look at a lot of groups that have that as an opportunity, most aren’t able to capitalize on it in the way that he has. So I’m particularly impressed by that in particular.

Michael London:
Second would be, you mentioned WGU. I’ve been able to get to know and work closely with Scott Pulsipher over the years, and he does something … First of all, obviously when I saw the way that they were offering education, and this goes back years obviously, maybe 10 years ago now. I may have that wrong, but a while ago. When I saw the way WGU was offering education, it was the first time I was really impressed by online education. And then as I got to know him better and saw the way he runs his school, his business, he runs it like a business. And he’s able to do both, it’s really hard. I mean, it’s even hard for me being in social impact. How do you balance doing good with the running a good, strong business? He does that so well. And that’s made him an influential person to me because I think that’s critical. And by the way, this one hopefully you’ll laugh, he’s probably like a rival of yours sometimes. We’ll go with John Katzman, and I’ll tell you why. Is he a rival? I don’t even know.

Todd Zipper:
No, no.

Michael London:
Now I realize he’s he’s probably your friend.

Todd Zipper:
A bit of both.

Michael London:
Look, my first company, I would never have started if there was no Princeton Review. Right. I did it because I saw what someone else was doing, and it made me realize if there’s a business in test prep, there’s a business in college counseling. It was that simple to me. Over the years, he’s been a supporter. Obviously, I admire him as an entrepreneur. I also like the fact that he’s a little bit more out there than me. And I mean that as a compliment. I’m a little practical, a little straightforward, he’s a little out there. And I think that’s really good because some people who are out there, they’re just out there and they can’t actually make anything happen. But he’s been able to do both, and that’s pretty cool. So those are three individuals that mean something to me and that I admire within education and technology.

Todd Zipper:
Oh, that’s great. I appreciate you taking the time to share all those stories. Michael, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. I am so excited at what you’re up to with Uwill, you are tackling one of the biggest problems in our society today and starting with a really important group oof folks, which is our students, our future in many ways. Even though we know a lot of learners in college are in their 30s and 40s, but there’s still a bulk of them in their early 20s. So with that, until next time, this has been An Educated Guest.

Michael London:
Thank you so much.

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