RALEIGH – Element451, previously backed by Cary’s Cofounders Capital to the tune of $1 million, closed a Series A funding round of $3 million, and Cofounders Capital again participated, as the company seeks to scale adoption of its software platform that facilitates student engagement during an admission process.

The funding comes at a time when the college admission process is hectic and uncertain, said company spokesperson Erin Newton. That’s due to the global coronavirus pandemic, which swept across the United States at a critical time for college admission decisions last spring.

Because admission directors at most institutions of higher education rely on prior years’ data to inform and plan recruiting activities and engagement strategies, the current 2020-2021 college admission cycle was nearly impossible to plan due to the data from spring 2020, said Newton, which was very much an outlier as schools across the country, as well as prospective college students and their families, worked to navigate a process amidst high uncertainty.

For this cycle, said Newton, a lot of the big name schools—think well-known public schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Ivy League—are actually faring better than they might have expected given what was happening in their admission pipeline a year ago.  “Smaller schools, particularly community colleges, are struggling,” said Newton.

Like other trends, the personalization and digitization of a student’s college search and admission process accelerated within the past year, and Element451 was built to facilitate an admissions process for all parties involved. The ability for an admission office to pivot–quickly–to conduct much of its recruitment and engagement-based work in a virtual environment was critical for those offices hitting their admission targets, the company noted in a statement regarding the funding round.

Many challenges have emerged for universities and for colleges, whether private or public, including steep drops in admission and matriculation, changes in funding as state legislatures face tough decisions about budget shortfalls, and navigating an uncertain future while balancing some—or all—virtual classes at some point during the current academic year.

“The admissions season was very unpredictable this year, both at selective and less selective universities,” said Laura Owanesian, an independent educational consultant and founder of Crescere College Consulting, an admissions consulting firm based in Cornelius.  “Colleges and students were affected by test optional admissions, deferred enrollment from last year’s incoming first year students, high usage of waitlists, and changing preferences for students, whether staying in-state, taking gap years, or more.”

Analysis of the data from this year’s Common Application, which is the most widely-used college application in the country with more than 900 institutions participating in its use, described in a publication on Inside HigherEd earlier this year, found that what has been reported anecdotally in admissions is occurring in the data set as well.

“The larger and more competitive colleges and universities are having a good year and getting lots of applications. But smaller and less competitive colleges are not,” wrote the story’s author Scott Jaschik.  “And first-generation students and those who lack the money to pay for an application are not applying at the same rates they used to.”

Yet Element451, which built a two-way software platform powered by artificial intelligence and allows for what the company calls “hyperpersonalization” and multi-channel communications, is bullish about the future of college in the United States.

So are the company’s investors.

“I believe this company is going to be our next big Triangle breakout venture,” said David Gardner, founder and managing partner of Cofounders Capital.

Along with Cofounders Capital, Cultivation Capital joined the round.

“With my personal experience as a faculty member and program director, I understand the value that Element451 is creating for college admissions offices, and I am excited to help them grow,” said Cliff Holekamp, co-founder and managing director of Cultivation Capital.

A third investor, described as a strategic investor by the company, joined the round as well.

The admission process is shifting, said Newton, toward an emphasis on student engagement, which is all about understanding at an individual level what a prospective student or admitted student needs or is interested in at any given point in their journey to becoming an enrolled student, then delivering on that need.

For example, said Newton, “if a student visits a webpage about financial aid several times a school may decide to invite that student to a one-on-one discussion about smart financial planning for college.”

Given the volume of prospective students in the admission pipeline, and the limited admission staff, it’s likely incredibly challenging to personalize an experience manually. That’s what the company is built to deliver: automating the process of gleaning what a student might need to move on to the next step and deliver corresponding content, touchpoints, or a conversation, said Newton.