Photo Credit: COURTESY: UNIGO - Unigo team members tabling the National Association for College Admissions Counseling show in Indiana last month.American college students today stand a 40 percent chance of changing universities — commonly when university or program isn’t compatible with a student’s learning style.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it takes students on average five to six years to complete a bachelor’s degree. Including community colleges, our national dropout rate is higher than 50 percent — higher than any other developed country except Hungary.

To combat America’s transfer student and dropout rates, Lake Oswego-based Unigo Group connects American universities and programs with students who are likely to enroll in and complete those programs.

Early this September, Unigo acquired the assets of Cinergy Education, a national education network with offices in Florida and New York, in a combined effort to improve both their school-to-student matchmaking interfaces.

Photo Credit: COURTESY: UNIGO - Unigo presents student Cayla Bleoja with scholarship money for college.“There’s a lack of decision support data on one of the most complex and important decisions students and families are making, all the factors that go into finding a school that’s the right fit,” said Brad McMahon, the senior vice president of digital services at Unigo Group. “We recognize there’s a big market and a lot of inefficiency, and that has primarily manifested itself in the student debt issue.”

After taking a personality quiz, Unigo presents students with a list of twenty potential schools compared by an algorithm matching engine. A student can include favored universities and the top twenty best fits will surface based on personality, preferences, learning styles and data collected from all kinds of higher education facilities including colleges and trade schools for nontraditional students.

“It (Unigo and Cinergy’s agreement) was serendipitous from a business standpoint,” said McMahon. “We (Unigo) had a need and (Cinergy) wanted to collectively grow into a more comprehensive business solution.”

John Springer, co-founder and president of Cinergy Education, said, “If you’re overwhelmed with all the choices, don’t know which school is best for you, or just want some help, we’ll match you up with schools that will help meet your needs.”

Cinergy partners with for-profit, nonprofit, trade, campus and online schools and keeps a database of student loan options, scholarships and grants.

Unigo has helped students find more than $350 million in private loans. Unigo hopes to change the student loan market by giving away more than $200,000 in scholarships this year.

According to an analysis by credit bureau Experian, 40 million Americans are in student debt. The nationwide student debt is $1.2 trillion — a world record and an 84 percent increase since the 2008 recession.

McMahon estimates his company saves a student $20,000 to $100,000 in tuition by helping a student stay at one school, in one program, and finish within four years. Unigo does this for thousands of students.

McMahon projects a 200 percent revenue growth for Unigo in 2015. Three areas of income keep students using Unigo for free: Unigo Connect, the engagement platform for admissions teams and alumni marketing associations; the Student Success Index, which is the predictive matching model; and Unigo’s student loan business.

“We feel that this is a business that will be a multimillion business line for us on an annual basis,” said McMahon. “There’s a really interesting opportunity to ... layer in that predictive model capability so we can deliver students (who) have a much higher probability to enroll and succeed.”

Unigo’s individual personality quizzes are necessary because student success directly correlates to his or her background and parents’ income, according to a comparison study of their test rates. Of freshman college students, 25 percent who were born into the bottom half of income distribution will earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24. Almost 90 percent of freshman born into the top 25 percent of income distribution will graduate.

“(Unigo) has some analytics that will allow us to determine the schools and ultimately how successful a student might be in their program,” says Springer. In sharing its database, Unigo boosts Cinergy’s connection with loan and scholarship programs, which can leverage site traffic by millions more visitors according to Springer.

In the last year, Unigo has created several jobs in Portland. The Lake Oswego office has 20 employees who are accompanied by a team of six in New York and nine in Jacksonville, Florida. By 2015, McMahon hopes to employ at least 10 more people.

“Everybody (who works here) is aligned around the problem we’re trying to solve for this market and this mission of helping students in a cool and credible way,” said McMahon. “It’s something people get excited about — leveraging technology to do that, it’s exciting.”

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