StraighterLine Welcomes Seasoned Executive Heather Combs as CEO
Trailblazing provider of low-cost courses taps veteran of growth-stage businesses
WASHINGTON, DC/BALTIMORE, MD (MARCH 15, 2022) -- StraighterLine, a student success company that provides scalable and affordable learning pathways to credentials of value, today named Heather Combs as its chief executive officer. Combs joins a seasoned leadership team and brings more than two decades of experience in scaling high-growth companies, most recently as chief commercial officer of the digital product development company 3Pillar Global.
Since its founding in 2008, StraighterLine has provided an alternative model to build the workforce of tomorrow by serving the learners of today. StraighterLine has provided thousands of learners with affordable and flexible postsecondary education courses that are accepted at more than 2,000 accredited U.S. colleges and universities. These courses are delivered through low-risk online pathway programs that help institutions address enrollment and retention challenges. StraighterLine also partners with employers to deliver flexible, low-cost career paths that align with in-demand skills.
“The cost of college weighed heavily on me throughout my own journey to completing my degree as I worked throughout my college years and still graduated with student debt. Now, with my oldest daughter applying to college, affordability and optionality is top-of-mind for me once again,” said Combs, who completed her undergraduate degree in three years, in part by taking on accelerated course loads. “I am excited to join StraighterLine to help expand affordable, flexible postsecondary opportunities and remove unnecessary barriers for today’s students so they can perform at their best and achieve their career goals.”
With Combs’ arrival, co-founder and chief executive officer Burck Smith will transition to chairman of the board and continue to advise on the organization's long-term priorities.
“Heather brings an impressive track record of leading company growth and expansion, which makes her an ideal fit to help accelerate StraighterLine’s scale and sustain our impact in higher education and workforce development,” Smith said. “As a former working learner, Heather understands the unique aspirations and challenges of the modern student during this critical time for higher education and is the right leader to guide StraighterLine as we work together to meet the educational needs of future generations of students.”
"Heather brings an impressive track record of leading company growth and expansion, which makes her an ideal fit to help accelerate StraighterLine’s scale and sustain our impact in higher education and workforce development. As a former working learner, Heather understands the unique aspirations and challenges of the modern student during this critical time for higher education and is the right leader to guide StraighterLine as we work together to meet the educational needs of future generations of students."
INVESTING IN GROWTH
In May 2020, BV Investment Partners (“BV”), a middle-market private equity firm with experience in the education technology space, recognized the innovation and potential of StraighterLine to meet the demand for efficient and effective online learning offerings and made a significant investment in StraighterLine. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, StraighterLine remained committed to investing in technology to support its institutional partners. It also expanded into the employer market by partnering with Bright Horizons, an employee benefits company that assists corporations looking to offer affordable, flexible and effective degree and certification pathways to their employees. In 2021, StraighterLine increased its workforce by 23% and helped tens of thousands of learners begin or restart pathways to college completion.
“As we enter our next stage of growth, we plan to expand our reach and provide a broader spectrum of solutions to meet the needs of students, schools, workforce partners, and consumers at large,” said Combs.
A NEW WAY OF LEARNING
StraighterLine’s mission is to solve the biggest challenges facing education to meet the needs of today’s learners.
Prior to March 2020, only 50% of students had taken at least one class online. Following a sudden shift to remote education, learners have new expectations and desires around how higher education is delivered and accessed. The ensuing declines in enrollment and retention and the exodus of faculty and staff in higher education has institutions redefining financial sustainability and the partners they need to survive.
“It is a pivotal moment in time for education with a great need for industry-valued stackable credentials and affordable degrees that offer a greater return on investment for students and companies alike,” said Combs. “As a pioneer in online education, StraighterLine is uniquely positioned to help develop academic, career, and skill pathways to address these needs.”
"It is a pivotal moment in time for education with a great need for industry-valued stackable credentials and affordable degrees that offer a greater return on investment for students and companies alike. As a pioneer in online education, StraighterLine is uniquely positioned to help develop academic, career, and skill pathways to address these needs."
LEADING THE WAY
Most recently, Combs led 3Pillar Global’s operations, marketing, and strategic growth initiatives as chief commercial officer, helping the company achieve double-digit growth. She also served as chief operating officer and chief revenue officer during her five and a half years with the company. Prior to 3Pillar, Combs led revenue strategy and product management as the chief business development officer at the HR Certification Institute and was the chief sales officer at Hanover Research, a market research and advisory firm serving the K-12, higher education, and corporate markets. Combs spent much of her early corporate career with the Corporate Executive Board (now part of Gartner), where she worked in a variety of roles in product, sales, and services during a nearly 13-year run that ended as practice manager for the Corporate Legal Exchange.
Combs is active in the community as a founding member of Chief, a network to connect and support women executive leaders, and a member of the advisory council for STEM for HER, an organization that empowers girls and young women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. A proud graduate of Texas A&M University, she is raising five daughters and resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area with her family.
StraighterLine is a student success company and the category creator for providing scalable solutions to deliver affordable, effective, and accelerated learning pathways to formal degree programs and widely recognized industry credentials. The StraighterLine platform supports over 40,000 new students a year, including directly through the straighterline.com website as well as through the company’s growing network of university and employer relationships.