Empowered by Choice

Phillip Perlman launched his marketing career as a bovine evangelist for Chick-fil-A. He set off on an experiential marketing campaign that grew a local Chick-fil-A’s restaurant business by 18 percent. Outfitted in matching cow pajamas alongside a colleague in a cow costume, he introduced a new target audience to chicken for breakfast. That success opened the door for Phillip to help the company expand across California.

A razor-sharp ability to understand the consumer mindset has propelled Phillip’s career forward for the last 15 years. He honed those skills while driving student enrollment in higher education, doing marketing and strategy management alongside university presidents and leaders in higher education.

Americans’ Burgeoning Student Debt Crisis

Phillip succeeded in recruiting thousands of students for dozens of universities like the University of Phoenix, DeVry and EDMC which operated more than 100 schools at the time. But the average amount of student debt has roughly doubled since the mid 2000s, and college tuition continues to rise. Currently, 44 million Americans are burdened with student debt totaling $1.6 trillion, more than the total U.S. credit card debt.*

Phillip began longing to reverse these outcomes. Students were signing up for popular degrees like Photography and Pastry Arts, but exiting with debt close to $20-$30,000 and limited job prospects. “People were enrolling in programs that had a terrible outlook,” he said. The reason: they weren’t informed and they didn’t know what else to pursue.

So, Phillip conceived the idea of Careers by Degree. It’s goal: empower interrupted students, traditional students and job seekers to understand what options exist without having to be a professional researcher. “I want to point people in the right direction,” he said. But Phillip let the idea simmer for six more years.

While working for DeVry University, he launched and built-up his now successful bespoke marketing agency, The Perlman Agency. There Phillip continues to employ his broad expertise in PR, direct response, web development and optimization, and retail, working with both nonprofits and businesses.

Space-driven Collaboration

The seed idea of Careers by Degree continued to gnaw at Phillip until he finally took the plunge this March. He filed paperwork and joined Innovation DuPage. Here he discovered a shared meeting place and networking opportunities with like-minded entrepreneurs. “I intended The Perlman Agency’s staff to be remote and the company as lean as possible, but building Careers by Degree requires sitting down and having conversations,” Phillip said.

Besides connecting with thought leaders, he appreciates access to resources that Innovation DuPage makes available. Over the last six months he and several colleagues have been hammering out details in daily meetings, phone calls and video chats held in airy conference rooms.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Last month CareersbyDegree.com did a soft launch of its matching service. The website’s interface is setup to “choose your own adventure.” Users are presented with three initial choices: schools, degree programs or careers. Then within two to three steps, a short list of options tailored to each user’s personal qualifications and requirements appears.

For students seeking a best-fit school, Careers by Degree shows them key factors such as types of school (four-year, trade, certificate programs, etc.), tuition costs, and the average amount of student debt.

Others may visit the site seeking careers that could earn $100,000. The site will reveal which degrees and programs lead to higher-paying job prospects.

“We really wanted people to be empowered by choice,” Phillip said. “We want to unlock as much information as possible so people see, ‘These are my options–I never would have thought about this.”

Schools and universities will also benefit from the site’s data, learning about prospective students’ interest. They could discover needed degrees they don’t offer, or why there’s no market for an existing program.To pique interest in the site, Phillip recently launched a weekly YouTube series to highlight a behind the scenes look at this EdTech Startup. He plans to use this experience launching Careers by Degree to help inform and equip others interested in doing their own startup.

Phillip hopes his two sons are better informed than he was. He changed his major three times in college. Trent, age 10, dreams of becoming a race car driver, baseball player or lawyer. Mark, age 9, aspires to be a professional hockey player or hockey team owner.

This younger generation will become more equipped to make rewarding life choices. In the next year, Phillip aims Careers by Degree to become one of the first places someone goes to determine a career or educational path. In the meantime, drop by Innovation DuPage in Glen Ellyn’s old police station to meet Phillip and his team as they expand this promising matching service.

*According to the Washington Post and Federal Reserve, respectively.

 

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