EdX To Seek New Revenue Models

As edX approaches its one-year anniversary, the rapidly growing online venture is looking to become economically self-sufficient, said edX President Anant Agarwal at a virtual education conference on Monday.

Hosted by Harvard and MIT, the Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education Summit gathered roughly 200 academic and institutional leaders in higher education, technology, and government to discuss blending virtual and on-campus learning. Moderated panels also facilitated dialogue on the institutional barriers to online education.

Launched with $30 million investments from both Harvard and MIT last May, edX is a non-profit online educational platform whose X Consortium has expanded to include twelve institutional partners from all over the world—each of which is required to commit both funds and online courses to the initiative.

Agarwal said that revisions to edX’s revenue strategy will look to supplement this institutional support, so that edX can remain a non-profit endeavor without becoming a financial burden on its partners. Future revenue models might fill the gap between investment and income by charging users for special services such as in-person professor contact, certificates, or executive education programs.

“As edX, we have very lofty goals, but at the heart of it, we’re building a business,” Agarwal said. “We don’t have to turn in huge profits like Facebook’s $100 billion IPO, but we have to be self-sustaining.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif said that after MIT launched OpenCourseWare—a publicly available, web-based collection of nearly all MIT course content—ten years ago, it quickly learned that donor-based support was not a viable model for financing a nonprofit in the long-term.

He added that edX will need to find more funding beyond the seed grants invested last year—and suggested that some of this revenue might come from future university capital campaigns.

“Inasmuch [as] Harvard and MIT committed the money, now we have to find the money,” he said. “We have to raise it and we’re spending it, and hopefully a campaign will help us raise whatever we need.”

Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 referenced two financial responsibilities held by the University with respect to HarvardX—its initial commitment of $30 million and the cost required to prepare each new course­—as evidence that additional revenue generation will be critical. He noted that alumni have already expressed tremendous support for the initiative.

“We certainly are going to be seeking philanthropic support,” Garber said. “But we also believe that this is in our future, and anything that’s in our future, that’s a long-term project [that] needs to be self-sustaining.”

—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at amnahashmi@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.

—Staff writer Cynthia W. Shih can be reached at cshih@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @CShih7.

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