Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane Valley-based online education company grows

Founder looks to expand offerings into new sectors

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Mick Jackson, who started Spokane Valley-based Virtual Education Software inc. on a $1 bet, says the company has signed 14 new colleges, universities, and other educational centers this year, taking its total to 91, and is expecting six more before the end of the year. 

“I’m not actually a businessman; I’m a behavioral theorist,” Jackson says. “I started this company on a $1 bet because I was told educators can’t make money.”

Jackson says the company brought in about $1.3 million in revenue last year, and he anticipates it to be between that and $1.5 million this year. He also says the company is targeting to have another 10 to 12 educational clients next year. 

Virtual Education, which has 11 employees here and two who work remotely in Portland, Ore., first launched out of Jackson’s home in 1998. It’s now located in 1,600 square feet of leased space in the RiverView Corporate Center, at 16201 E. Indiana. 

The company offers online professional development and continuing-education courses for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educators Jackson says. 

“We focus on courses that teachers don’t get in their undergraduate program,” he says. “We do offer some core classes, but our main focus is courses on things like exceptionality, special education, autism and Asperger’s disorders, behavioral remediation, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).”

The company also offers courses on subjects such as bullying, harassment, and cyber intimidation, Jackson says. 

Most of Virtual Education’s courses are offered post baccalaureate Jackson says, but some universities do occasionally offer them as higher-level undergraduate courses. 

“We do also develop custom courses in pretty much any area that one of our university partners offers, but those aren’t courses we own,” Jackson says. “You have to be a university partner of ours; we don’t go out and do that as a business.”

Jackson also says the company is planning to branch into areas outside of the education sector. 

“We’re working with a dermatology company out of Florida to develop a training website for them,” he says. “We’ve had some companies come to us that we’ve rejected in the past because we just weren’t large enough to work with them … we’re focused now on looking outside of education, to where there are no or limited distance learning opportunities, and trying to develop those markets.”

In the Spokane area, the company works with Eastern Washington University and Washington state Educational Service District 101, Jackson says. Elsewhere in the Northwest, its partners include Central Washington University, Seattle Pacific University, Boise State University, and Portland State University.

The majority of the company’s clients are colleges and universities, Jackson says. 

Washington and Georgia are the only states where educational services districts have partnered with the company as well. 

“There are a couple states that allow (educational service districts) to list courses for teachers,” Jackson says. 

There are five educational service districts in Washington that use the company, and one in Georgia, Jackson says. 

Virtual Education offers two- and three-semester credit courses Jackson says. 

A two-semester hour course will take about 30 hours to complete the online portion. This doesn’t count any outside assignments the student is required to do as well, such as case studies or reviewing journal articles. A three-credit course takes about 45 hours, not counting outside work, he says. 

“At the graduate level, there’s quite a bit of outside work that needs to be done,” Jackson says.

As of this summer, students also are able to access and complete courses on any Internet-compatible device, Jackson says, such as tablets and mobile phones, in addition to laptop and desktop computers. 

Rarely, someone outside of the university or educational system will want to take one of the company’s courses, Jackson says. 

“Out of 1,000 students, we may have one, usually a parent of a kid with autism who wants to know more,” Jackson says. “Normally, these are teachers who are looking for a salary increase, or a change of specialty.”

Teachers in the state of Washington also are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education hours, Jackson says. 

 “Teachers will look for classes they can do at home and self-paced,” Jackson says. 

Teachers can register for the courses through the university, or can register directly with Virtual Education. The courses are paid for by the individual teacher, Jackson says.  For example, in Spokane, taking a Virtual Education course through the Education Service District here will cost $195 for a two-credit course, and $225 for a three-credit course. Eastern Washington University has the same rates for Virtual Education’s courses, Jackson says.

Katie Ross
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Reporter Katie Ross covers manufacturing, hospitality, and government at the Journal of Business. An outdoor enthusiast and snowboard fanatic, Katie is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University.  

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