Harvard Business School Partners With 2U Despite Having the HBX and edX Platforms

Harvard University announced this month that three of its schools –Harvard Business School (HBS), the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Statistics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences– will create a new certificate program, the Harvard Business Analytics Program, with 2U, the online program management company.

Aimed at executives in full-time work, the program, to be started in March 2018, will be delivered through 2U’s online platform and will feature live, seminar-style classes with Harvard faculty members. The program will cost around $50,000 for three semesters, with an estimated time requirement of 10 hours per week. A cohort of 60 or so students will began the program.

The Harvard Business School already offers certificate programs through its online education platform, HBX. But Karim Lakhani, a professor of business administration at the business school, said on Inside of Higher Education that the university had decided to work with 2U rather than developing the program completely in-house, because of the company’s strong technological capability and experience — particularly in incorporating “live” aspects of online programs.

Chip Paucek, CEO of 2U, said the technology 2U can offer universities goes far beyond “just what the student sees.” The company can use analytics to predict things such as enrollment and completion of courses, in addition to making programs widely accessible, and securing content from cyberattack.

Aside from technology, 2U also offers up-front money. The company “invests heavily in each of its partnerships,” said Paucek, typically spending between $5 million and $10 million in the first few years. Each 2U partnership lasts a minimum of 10 years to give the company time to recoup its investment from a significant slice of the student enrollment fees. Paucek said the partnership with Harvard was a high point in the company’s 10-year history, and that the company was “honored to be a brand ambassador for one of the best-known brands in the world.”

Lakhani acknowledged that Harvard has many resources at its disposal, including its existing technology platforms’ edX (which it founded with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and HBX, the business school’s adapted platform. But while the university has used these platforms mostly to experiment with asynchronous massive open online courses, Harvard was interested in “another exploration in this space” and other ways to “reconceptualize the [educational] delivery model,” Lakhani said.

Looking around for ways to do that, he said, led the university to 2U. “This experiment allows us to learn to say, if in fact we have a technology provider that will take on the burdens of infrastructure, and that has experience with running this type of program, we should take advantage of their expertise,” he said.

The deal between Harvard and 2U comes as some analysts and observers question whether universities will (and should) continue to pay outside companies to take their programs online. (A highly critical report Monday questioned whether such arrangements might undermine public higher education.)