Dropbox goes off to college with new Education service

The first iteration of this service is aimed at faculty, staff and grad students at universities

Dropbox launched a new service on Tuesday to help graduate students, college faculty and staff collaborate on files while they’re at school.

Schools can now pay $50 per user, per year for Dropbox Education, a version of the cloud storage company’s premium offering for organizations that’s tailored to the cost-sensitive education market.

Dropbox is trying to sell more paid services, but its offerings have been aimed primarily at businesses. Dropbox Education will cost much less than the company's business plans, which typically run from $150 to $300 per user, per month.

It’s a move that could give the company a bigger foothold in the lucrative education market at a time when Dropbox is working hard to expand its business beyond a large base of free consumer users.

The service is designed to allow faculty, staff and grad students to work together using cloud storage and let IT administrators control security. It also integrates with popular education software, including Blackboard, InCommon and Turnitin.

Dropbox Education gives schools 15GB of storage per paid user. It's all in one pool, and individual users can consume as much or as little as they want. That means a school with 100 Dropbox Education users would have a total storage pool of 1.5TB for all those users to share.

Jason Katcher, Dropbox’s director of education, said this is just the first iteration of the service and it’s aimed at a fairly small niche: faculty, staff and graduate students at colleges and universities. It’s supposed to give CIOs control over users who are already sharing potentially sensitive data through Dropbox and isn’t really intended for undergrads who might just need to turn in a paper or two.

Dropbox is in a strong position to sell to schools, since many consumers already use it, ESG Senior Analyst Terri McClure said in an interview. Dropbox Education’s application integrations may make it even more appealing to academic users, she said.

However, the company is competing for schools' dollars with a bunch of other cloud storage companies, including those that already have a foothold inside educational institutions. Most schools already pay for a productivity suite like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps for Education that provides large amounts of cloud storage, Katcher said.

That’s good news for Dropbox in the sense that the company doesn’t have to offer unlimited cloud storage since its selling points are really user familiarity, features and ease of use. The downside is that schools are already paying for one storage product and may not see a need to pay for another.

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