The Art of Education University, founded by Jessica and Derek Balsley in 2011, is a local Iowa success story of building a global company in a rural community. This business is located in Osage, which it is a small town in North Iowa with a population of around 3,600. The Art of Education University is a lifelong university focusing on one very specific student – art teachers. As of 2019, The Art of Education University offers a Master of Arts in Art Education degree and is a fully accredited institution of higher learning, serving thousands of students around the world.
The idea came to Jessica when she was working as an art teacher. It was very difficult to find and access resources and professional development to continue her education and grow her teaching skills. What was needed was a network of learning resources and courses that an art teacher could access from anywhere. Derek suggested that they could fix the problem themselves. As with any startup, Jessica and Derek put in a lot of hard work to get their idea off the ground. They knew that building a library of strong, useful, comprehensive content was the key.
The Art of Education University soon created a buzz among art teachers across the United States. The positive word-of-mouth advertising was invaluable to their growth. They wanted to help new art teachers be confident and grow their strengths. The Art of Education University’s online model means that the best art teachers from around the country are their instructors, and any art teacher around the world can take their courses.
In early 2019, The Art of Education University announced they had achieved full accreditation as an online university, one of only two new universities to open in Iowa in the last nine years. The accreditation process took three years of diligent research. During the process, Jessica and Derek emphasize the importance of getting started and taking their entrepreneurial journey one step at a time. Derek’s advice for new entrepreneurs is to take advantage of the organizations and resources out there, and find a mentor a few years ahead of you in the entrepreneurial journey, who knows what you are going through.
Jessica and Derek have built an innovative company with a huge impact, helping teachers around the world, while also proving that you can build and grow a successful global business in rural Iowa. The Art of Education University has grown to 14 full time employees and 21 part time employees.