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Founder's Five + Higher Ed

Founder’s Five: Mark Salisbury, TuitionFit

Founder’s Five is a continuing series from Tyton Partners that invites education company founders to shed light on their own success and illuminate the landscape for other education entrepreneurs and investors by answering five basic questions.

Mark Salisbury, together with his co-founder Kimberly Dyer, started TuitionFit in 2018 with a mission to help everyone find a college option that is both affordable and accessible.

TuitionFit creates price transparency by securely crowdsourcing real financial aid offers, organizing those offers by the income and academic profile of the students who received them. This enables students to compare their own offers against a growing database of existing financial aid awards, or simply search for the college options that fit whatever price range they choose.

More extensive and accurate than any net-price calculator, TuitionFit gives students, parents, and college counselors the ability to shop for college by price and to compare prices across the entire marketplace at any point during their college search.

What is your company’s origin story?

My whole career has been in higher education where I’ve watched college prices become a real issue for the public. The public just gets so frustrated, because they can’t answer the simple question, “Which colleges cost what price and which ones fit my price range?” But this became poignant to me as I started doing work with a lot of colleges struggling with enrollment. Their sticker prices were over the moon, but their actual price is what many middle-class Americans want. But those middle-class students never apply to those schools. Why? Because they can’t find out what their actual price is going to be. 

The lack of transparency is killing the whole marketplace. And in my mind, if you’ve got a problem that’s both wrecking the public and wrecking the institutions, that’s a problem that we probably need to fix.

MARK SALISBURY

How will the market be changed by your company’s success?

Our goal is to make this marketplace far more efficient, which means many more students going to college or pursuing some other post-secondary opportunity, and many more institutions thriving because there are plenty of students that want to access what they have to offer. We should not be focused on how few students there are. This is a marketplace with millions of students to be served that currently aren’t in the system. We ought to be focused on abundance rather than resource limitations.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how little I knew about being an entrepreneur. In my time in higher education, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to use data to get better. In that role, I was working with people to encourage them to think about new ideas and embrace those things. It was easy to think, “Well, sure, I can talk about a new idea and get people to buy into it.” The distance between that and actually being a successful entrepreneur is a million miles more than I understood.

What non-intuitive insight have you gained through this work?

There are a whole bunch of companies claiming to be fixing the financial issue surrounding college prices and I’m sorry to say that most of them are not fixing the problem. They’re finding that they can make a lot of money on the dysfunctional nature of the system. They’ve created products that either the public is paying for to solve the financial problem, or that colleges are paying for to just better market, or better present, or better bob-and-weave around the issue of price transparency. Both of those types of organizations are making a lot of money in this marketplace. And that money is just a pass through for tuition spending, but none of them are really solving this problem.

What other education company besides your own do you wish you had started?

I really wish I’d started Outlier. I love what they do and their big-picture approach. They make the online experience for students really engaging. If I didn’t start Outlier myself, I would have just gone and knocked on the door and said, “Can I sweep the floors for you?” The other company that is damn cool is VictoryVR and their work building college classes in the Metaverse. And they are in Davenport, Iowa; so, I wouldn’t have to move!

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