The $800M deal that could change remote learning

Online learning powerhouse 2U has agreed to a takeover of edX, which would remain as a nonprofit with the two serving 50 million students.
By: | June 29, 2021
Photo courtesy of 2U

Two of the biggest brands in the higher education digital technology space— edX and 2U, Inc.—have agreed to join forces to provide more affordability, more online program access and more breadth for students across the world.

The willingness of nonprofit edX to have its assets taken over by 2U was in part necessity—the remote learning market has become intensely competitive—and another part opportunity as the two partners will form an alliance that could reach 50 million students and provide more than 3,500 online programs for free. The transaction, reportedly worth $800 million, is expected to be finalized sometime in the next four months.

The nonprofit edX, which was started by MIT and Harvard leaders in 2012, will remain intact as it reinvents itself for “its next phase of growth and impact,” according to Anant Agarwal, Founder and CEO of edX and MIT Professor. 

“Our universities founded edX nearly 10 years ago to raise the aspirations for online education and make university courses accessible to learners around the world, and it has been enormously gratifying to watch that vision blossom,” said Harvard president Larry Bacow and MIT president Rafael Reif in a joint statement. “Today’s announcement will carry forward this mission on a whole new scale, connecting many more learners with a wider range of high-quality options for content, credentials, and degrees. With online education rapidly changing, it’s the right moment for this leap of evolution for edX.

“At the same time, the nonprofit that emerges from this transaction will enable us and our partners to support innovation that enhances learning for all and, we hope, play a catalytic role in closing the learning gap that exists for far too many.”

For 2U, which works with 80 of the world’s leading universities, the timing is right, as it looks to leverage the popularity of online education. It projects that by the end of the year, its revenues will near $1 billion. More importantly, it will scale an unprecedented partnership that will deliver what educators and employers are looking for.

“By combining 2U and edX’s global reach and offerings from free to degree, together we believe we can fully realize our shared vision and meet the growing worldwide demand for online education,” said 2U Co-Founder and CEO Christopher “Chip” Paucek.

The reach and expansiveness of the partnerships is unprecedented. Among the 230 partners, 185 will be nonprofit institutions and include 19 of the world’s top 20 universities. While 2U offers short courses, boot camps, professional certificates, and undergraduate and graduate degrees, edX provides courses with a free/audit track, Masters and doctorate degrees, professional certificates, and MicroBachelors programs and MicroMasters programs.

In terms of support, the partners say institutions will still be able to rely on edX’s Open platform and receive access to 2U’s 2UOS services and support in marketing, career services, and digital learning design. Two other solutions—edX for Business and edX Online Campus, which is utilized by 850 universities—will be enhanced and expanded to help upskill and reskill students and close gaps in learning. And colleges and universities will be able to continue their agreements with edX related to massive open online courses (MOOCs), ensuring privacy and protection of all data.