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PlanetGPA: "The eHarmony of education"

Zack Seward
Uma Gupta, CEO and Founder of PlanetGPA.

For reasons both economic and strategic, universities around the country are increasingly trying to woo international students.

Last year, SUNY announced plans to boost international enrollment by more than 75 percent. California's public university system is in the midst of a similar recruiting push - which has been met with bumpy results.

Playing matchmaker to thousands of international students and their institutional suitors has its share of challenges.

That's where PlanetGPA comes in.

"We call ourselves 'the eHarmony of education'," says CEO and founder Uma Gupta. "[We] really help both sides find each other and be the perfect match."

Personal and professional

Gupta knows both sides well. She's been a professor in Nebraska, a dean at the University of Houston and the president of SUNY's Alfred State. (She left Alfred in 2006 after a rocky three years on the job.)

It all started in the 1980s when Gupta was an international student herself. She came from India, and landed in Central Florida.

"I went to class the first day," Gupta says, "and my professor was an accounting professor, a tough guy, and he said, 'OK, textbook, 200 pages'. I didn't even know they had a textbook or where to go the bookstore to find it."

Gupta says that combination of personal and administrative experience is one of her consultancy's biggest assets.

Building bridges

PlanetGPA has worked with more than 30 schools and placed more than 300 students since it was founded in 2008.

The company initially operated on a commission model, taking a cut for every student it placed. Gupta dropped that model about a year ago.

"We really go in and become an extension of the international student recruitment efforts," Gupta says. "We are still new to this model, but we find that we are doing exceptionally well."

As an extension of a university's recruitment efforts, PlanetGPA works with college counselors around the world, pointing students to schools that fit - and vice versa. A lot of Gupta's work is done over the Internet.

While schools are upping their game, Gupta says they could still be doing more.

"They could do so much better in terms of really attracting high quality students," Gupta says. "There seems to be a struggle in not really being able to put their arms around it."

But that doesn't mean schools aren't trying.

"Every system is pushing for internationalization - for economic reasons, certainly - but also for a higher purpose," says Gupta.

Meaningful relationships with other countries and continued peace are a big part of that higher aim, says Gupta.

But it's also about turning domestic students into global citizens.

"I cannot think of a student who is going to join corporate America who in one way, shape or form will not be engaging with somebody from another part of the world," Gupta says. "Not a chance today."

Business savvy

Gupta says U.S. institutions are slowly realizing this global ethos - and her business plan is to engage more of them as they do.

PlanetGPA is Gupta's first foray into running her own company - though she describes herself as "an entrepreneur at heart."

"The CEO gets it," Gupta says. "It's only as quickly as you can move that your company can be successful. You have to be agile, you have to be flexible. Academia is a different world."

Gupta's efforts have so far been met with praise. She's a nominee for a local business group's 2012 Technology Woman of the Year Award. PlanetGPA is a tenant of the High Tech Rochester business incubator.

It may be her first business, but Gupta says PlanetGPA is the latest manifestation of "a lifelong cause:" building bridges for people like her who come to the U.S. to study.

"I really do believe that we can start to build these important global relationships through what happens on our campuses."

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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