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More Views on What 2U’s Purchase of edX Will Mean for Higher Ed

IBL News | New York

MIT and Harvard’s sale of edX.org to 2U for $800 million continues to dominate the conversation on higher education. New views in favor and against are expressed through articles and forums.

Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), one of the largest universities in the U.S., wrote a column on Forbes titled “What 2U’s $800 Million Deal to Acquire edX Means for Higher Ed”.

“For 2U, the acquisition provides not only leads in those markets but also viable product offerings. In an earnings call last week, 2U made the math clear: if it converts only .03% of registered edX learners into its regular offerings, it will reduce the cost of student acquisition by 10% to 15%. Cost of acquisition is huge in online education, 20% or more of the overall budget.”

“If 2U’s acquisition of edX brings more affordable post-secondary higher education options to more people around the globe with good demonstrable outcomes, then it seems like a good change in the ecosystem for students.”

The leading newspaper the industry, The Chronicle of Higher Ed, posted an article by Jefferson Pooley, Professor of Media and Communication at Muhlenberg, stating that “MIT and Harvard sold their higher education future, auctioning off the lecture halls of the future.”

“Harvard and MIT have just made the same disastrous miscalculation. Nonprofits aren’t supposed to flip like this. The edX deal seems to have met the letter, if not the spirit, of nonprofit law by selling off its assets — and by parking the $800 million in a new Harvard-MIT nonprofit with a gauzy “inclusive learning and education” mission.”

“2U’s mission is fundamentally misaligned with the university tradition. 2U, Coursera, and their venture-funded competitors are built to squeeze profit from our students, using our faculty and course offerings. Harvard and MIT had no right, in the meaningful sense, to sell us off. None of us — not faculty members, not students — signed up for edX to increase Silicon Valley’s wallet share. We will look back on this careless abrogation of stewardship as the tragic squandering that it is.”
On Inside the Higher Education, columnists focus mostly on ideas towards the new, yet-unnamed nonprofit that MIT and Harvard will create, beyond the officially announced goals of “stewarding and enhancing the Open edX platform“, along with “developing new ways to make online learning more effective, engaging, and personalized.
Steven Mintz, Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, elaborates on “How I’d Spend $800 Million”, suggesting to “do something major”, and states: “There’s a good chance that the $800 million might not materialize in whole or at once. Payments, even in cash, often extend over time.”

“The single biggest question that needs to be asked is this: Why is it that the edX partners — which include the most highly ranked universities in the world — weren’t able to create a nonprofit open learning endeavor that could successfully compete with for-profits?”

“Now is the time to look forward by reaffirming edX’s founding vision: to create a cross-institutional collaborative that will address higher ed’s biggest challenges: access, affordability, equity, and attainment.Edward J. Maloney, Professor at Georgetown University, recommends that “the new nonprofit should look beyond online learning and into areas of learning innovation and the scholarship of institutional change.”

“Both MIT and Harvard are already internationally renowned for their activities in learning science, education scholarship, and research on organizational change.” (…) “Harvard and MIT now have the opportunity to create a new nexus of scholarly inquiry, one that integrates the study of learning and institutional change. Such a focus for the new nonprofit would both continue with, and expand on, the original mission of edX.”

“This new nonprofit can help to continue edX’s original mission to harness the “transformative power of education.”

Additional Resource:
Edward J. Maloney and Joshua Kim in Inside Higher Ed, July 13, 2021: External Partnerships and Higher Ed’s Mission of Critical Analysis

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