In today’s world, three critical questions should govern higher education decision-making:

  1. Does it improve outcomes?
  2. Does it increase access?
  3. Does it lower costs?

Fittingly enough, I’ve also found after 20 years as an investor in high growth education companies that answers to the same three questions will also predict the likelihood of any edu-venture’s success.

So when we talk about higher education reform like outcomes, I constantly return to the question: How can innovative ideas or practices influence the “Big 3?”

For example, two major inhibitors to learning are drop-outs and disconnected students.
Department of Labor figures show that of every 100 people who start high school, only 30 graduate college. Fortunately I’ve been involved in launching several very successful retention models, including Civitas, Starfish, and Graduation Alliance.

These ventures mine data, looking for any nugget that shows students going off track in their studies. Educators use such data to help develop highly impactful interventions. Early predictors can help identify students who are starting to fail and switch them into majors or other methods of study more likely to lead them to success. Carefully monitoring and responding to this information helps students achieve better outcomes, guides them to the right avenue for learning–whether an “Ivy” or a two-year community or technical college–maximizes the efficient use of resources and lowers costs.

To address the question of disconnected students, I’ve found that well-designed online classes with wrap-around support services also present part of the solution–and they improve access and lowers cost as well.

In the past year, I started building an online entrepreneurship program at the University of Maryland. What prompted the move to an online world? Greater student engagement results when you eliminate the “back row” that often becomes a place of refuge and disinterested boredom in the classroom.

Over the years of teaching venture capital and entrepreneurship, I’ve witnessed a major change as students have become a bit more disengaged in the classroom. I find that online classes can generate more interaction with the instructor and with other students. No one can hide on the “back row” in an online class.

People often view the concept of entrepreneurship way too narrowly. In the mind’s eye, an entrepreneur acts on an idea to start a company, usually a high-tech endeavor, then pursues venture capital to grow the company into the next unicorn (like Uber or AirBnB).

But entrepreneurship truly means thinking of ways to add creativity and value to all of your decisions, whether the decision is to start your own company–the typical view–or to buy real estate, a kayak, prepare for retirement or any other way to follow your bliss.

Students, regardless of age, who study entrepreneurship feel unencumbered by the strictures of textbooks and lectures. Applying an entrepreneurial model to all ways of thinking improves outcomes and can do so at lower costs.

For years, I’ve wanted to scale entrepreneurship activity to reach everyone. Going online allows me to pursue my position that entrepreneurship should be part of every liberal arts curriculum.

I joined the Partners Board because we know that affordable excellence is not only desirable, but achievable. It just takes focus, innovation and a willingness to answer these three tough questions.

How do we improve outcomes, access, and costs? Investments that effectively address these three issues will return large dividends, the greatest of which is keeping higher education in the United States the envy of the world.

Mark Grovic co-founded New Markets Venture Partners in 2003 and is a General Partner. Mark serves or has served on the Board of Directors for several education technology companies including Fishtree, Graduation Alliance, Think Through Learning, Moodlerooms, and Workspace as well as Collective Genius.where this article first appeared  in December 2015. Mark Grovic is an award-winning instructor and administrator at the University of Maryland.