Coursera’s founders and CEO rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange today as the online learning company became a rare education technology company to go public. and because it’s a pandemic, the event was online and the campaign was virtual (perhaps appropriate for an online learning company).
Of course, the money the company is raising is very real: nearly $520 million. But what does the change mean for universities and the higher education landscape?
Reading: Is coursera a public company
edsurge spoke with coursera CEO jeff maggioncalda today to ask what this unicorn company, valued at over $3.6 billion according to sales ledger, plans to do next. here are the conclusions:
coursera already had cash, but now he can add… more ai?
Apparently, Coursera entered the IPO with $275 million in the bank, bringing its total coffers to nearly three-quarters of $1 billion in cash, according to MaggionCalda.
what do you need all that for?
on the one hand, more robot teaching technology behind the scenes.
“We are always incorporating more AI into the teaching and learning experience,” he said. “On the learning side, that means more personalized learning. on the teaching side, [means] enhanced student success dashboards that predict each student’s grade every day and predict the likelihood of students dropping [out] of the degree program.”
said the influx will also help broaden the platform’s integration with learning management systems.
It should be noted that despite all the investment, the company is still not profitable.
growth is on the agenda
The company started nine years ago amid the hype of free moocs, or massive open online courses, some of which have attracted hundreds of thousands of students each. That’s no longer a buzzword, and Coursera and its competitors (including the nonprofit EdX, started by Harvard and MIT), have moved on to lucrative business models, such as selling online course libraries to businesses and governments. so that they can offer them to their employees.
The combination of ways Coursera reaches students has led them to claim 77 million registered students on the platform. but hearing maggioncalda talk about it, it makes that number seem small.
“We’re still in the early stages of scaling,” he said. “There are 1.3 billion people in the world who will be of working age in the next 10 years.”
and competitors are increasingly coming from outside of traditional higher education
Many of Coursera’s courses are in technical fields like computer science and engineering, fields where it’s easy to have an AI grade assignments. And these days there are plenty of new players challenging universities to offer non-traditional degree programs that aim to help students get jobs in technical fields.
That competition from “non-universities” is a big concern for the universities Coursera works with, says Maggioncalda.
“We want to make sure that coursera is a partner that allows all of our partner universities to keep up with [competition] from abroad,” he said. “Will you start to see engineering students select other types of programs,” she added, “because [college] programs aren’t moving fast enough to keep up with employer demands?”
but there are no plans to expand the elite set of university partners
Of the thousands of universities worldwide, coursera only works with 150 official partners, mostly the most selective and wealthy universities. many other universities want to make online courses for the platform, but the company rarely adds new ones. It’s essentially a new type of college group, only without sports teams, call it the Coursera League. and becoming a public company isn’t going to change that approach, apparently.
“We want to be really picky about quality,” said Coursera’s CEO. “Our distinguishing factor is the quality of the institutions and the quality of the universities.”
It turns out that it would be up to an “advisory board” made up of members from those 150 partner universities to allow new universities to join, he said. and they would have little incentive to bring more competitors into their own fields.
He emphasized that any university can use the company’s platform to create course content, though that’s different than having courses listed in its public catalog.
does the CEO of coursera worry about a drop in online learning after the pandemic?
While universities hope to fully reopen campuses after the pandemic, won’t interest in online learning wane a bit soon?
maggioncalda argues that the experience of testing online will make more students and universities continue to learn more online than before, in a new hybrid between virtual and face-to-face.
“College students will do more online, especially international students and working adults who are older and have families and jobs,” he said. “they will get college degrees and they will do it online.”