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What the Coursera IPO Means for Higher Ed

Episode 52

April 6, 2021 38 minutes


EAB’s Carla Hickman and Colin Koproske have been working together and studying the phenomenon of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, going back at least as far as 2012.

On today’s episode, the two touch on Coursera’s recent IPO-related financial filings and what that data might suggest in terms of their strategy going forward. Carla and Colin also examine the extent to which MOOCs and the companies that provide them, represent a threat to higher ed, or whether more colleges should be looking to partner with companies like Coursera to expand their own online course offerings.



0:00:13.6 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Carla Hickman returns to the podcast today to talk with her colleague, Colin Koproske about the Coursera IPO, the two review Coursera’s evolution as a company, and share their views on ways that massive open online courses or MOOCs will continue to alter the landscape of higher education. Thank you for joining us and enjoy.


0:00:44.3 Carla Hickman: Welcome everyone to Office Hours with EAB. This is Carla Hickman, Vice President of Research, and I am joined today by one of my longest-standing colleagues here at EAB, Colin Koproske, who is a senior research advisor and managing director in our research practice. So Colin, welcome.

0:01:00.7 Colin Koproske: Thank you, Carla. Good to be with you today.

0:01:03.2 CH: You know, Colin, and I, as I said, you and I’ve worked together over a decade now, and one of the topics where if I see it hit my inbox in the morning or I write a news article, you’re one of the first people I would turn to is anything that has to do with the online education world, and our conversation today is one of those headlines that not only was it something I sent to you, but it’s something our partners and the others that I work with were asking about, that is the news that Coursera which was among the very first MOOC platforms, and we’ll talk about MOOCs in a minute, they are preparing for their IPO, their initial public offering, and the reason that Colin is the first person that I would have sent that article to is actually when Coursera got its start back in 2012, Colin, you were the researcher who was told, just understand, help me know what should higher ed make out of this MOOC trend. So can you actually take us back, take us back to 2012 and give us a sense of what was Coursera, what was it when it started?

0:02:05.0 CK: Yeah, it’s funny, it’s giving me flashbacks to what was called the MOOC tsunami back in, as you mentioned, 2011, 2012. There were a number of famous artificial intelligence researchers at elite institutions, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller at Stanford, and then Sebastian Thrun who was also at Stanford, who had gotten famous really fast for discovering or perhaps re-discovering depending on who asked that you could simply open up an online course to a large audience and experiment with the student behavior that would follow, so the press that followed once Sebastian Thrun and others did that in their computer science courses, really scared a lot of boards and trustees, a lot of faculty members, provost, presidents and ignited, I think, a fire storm of press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, about the entry of elite Ivy League or Ivy plus universities into this kind of a large scale, freely accessible online course world. And this kind of framing, Massive Open Online Course or MOOC, each letter really was quite important, massive in that you were talking about 100,000 students, not 20 or 50 open, and that you wouldn’t charge for somebody to sort of audit the course online, meaning you didn’t have to be in Palo Alto to go sit in front of Sebastian Thrun or Andrew Ng and hear them talk about this.

0:03:36.4 CK: And of course, and that there was at least this spectre of it being perhaps one day equivalent to what a Stanford student or a Princeton student or a Caltech student might take. That course aspect of it, or the credit granting aspect of it is the one that was, I think most scary and didn’t really come to fruition, but I’d also say that it was kind of a solution in search of a problem for quite some time, it was kind of a surprisingly low uptake in terms of completion rates, so they’d have maybe 1-4% of students completing these, they were getting tons of students to sign up, but struggling to translate them into something that displaced traditional courses, traditional degrees at the time. So I’ll finish just by saying that at EAB, we were mostly in the kind of skeptical debunking mode, and we weren’t sure if this was gonna generate a ton of revenue, we knew that universities were eager to be inside of the tent. We don’t know what this is gonna mean, but we don’t wanna be on the outside wondering what this cabal of elite institutions is going to come out of this with, but over time, it largely just sort of legitimized online learning for folks who frankly dismissed it before, as something that the for-profits or community colleges or more access-focused institutions were gonna do.

0:05:00.2 CH: What was interesting about these massive open online courses, especially in the beginning is, as you mentioned, they were maybe in search of a problem, they were also in search of a business plan, so when Coursera was first started by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng in 2012, there wasn’t a plan here that they would become an ed tech darling, right? It was about democratizing access to professors and content that most people around the globe would not have. So as we sit here today in 2021 and they’re preparing for an initial public offering, clearly something changed, so I think it would be interesting if we sort of think if the initial idea back in 2012 was massive open online and courses, why did none of those letters actually exist as we look at it in 2021?

0:05:48.6 CK: Yeah, I think what we’ve seen is that these organizations and Coursera is one, there’s another similar one called edX, which is sort of a morphed MOOC provider that it’s not for profit, but started out with partnering with elite institutions, and then Sebastian Thrun started up Udacity, which is I think the smallest of the three. It’s for profit, famous for working with Georgia Tech on a very large computer science degree, but also bringing together some of the same principles. I think as they started to search for ways to give returns to their investors, and they all attracted lots of venture capital and interest, they kind of meandered into fields that really are not new to most of the partners we work with, and those are international student markets, kind of adult education, continuing education and enrichment markets, or their certificates are just alumni who wanna come back to school and take a course or two, and then the kind of employment space.

0:06:51.3 CK: So in terms of employer reimbursement, other kinds of upskilling value propositions that a large employer might need, can we package these courses in a way to be attractive to them, so that puts them in direct competition as they start to try to morph their product as it were into something where there’s more demonstrated monetary demand with not only their own institutional partners, but all the other institutions who might not be inside the tent with Coursera, edX, who also want enrollments in their online MBAs or certificate programs. So in that way, I think that’s where folks are starting to get a little bit more frightened these days.

0:07:34.3 CH: Yeah, you and I probably have been watching the evolution of Coursera, edX, Udacity closer than most people that would be listening to this conversation today. I thought of them as a test bed for many of the conversations, universities and colleges we’re trying to understand. So how large is the market for non-credit and non-degree education, how realistic is it that students would actually participate in what we often hear of as stackable credentials? So I’ll start with an individual course, I’ll be so satisfied by my experience in that individual course that I’ll sign back up for a certificate, I’ll sign up for multiple certificates, and those will become degrees. To me, that is what Coursera has started to do over the last decade, is really build that full pathway of stackability, even today, you can actually participate in a demonstration project on Coursera that you’re supposed to be able to complete in less than two hours, so that is very much about an individual skill that someone would wanna use tomorrow in the workplace. I am skeptical still though, will they actually be able to convert the 77 million registered users that they tout on the Coursera platform into those full pay repeat return customers?

0:08:48.0 CK: Yeah, yeah, I was gonna ask you, what you think is the biggest strength or value proposition, and related to that, what you would be most worried about if you were a traditional not-for-profit college university? Because I would venture a guess that a big part of the bet is, you mentioned this big number, 77 million learners, which are really just, those are the emails that they have, people who have registered or signed up, which probably every EAB employee at this point for something. And you can sign up and say, “Hey, I’m a managing director or I’m a executive or a management consultant,” and it starts to know certain things about you. So I think my bet or my assumption would be that that database over time, that they can have that huge lead generation machine and start to do what traditional universities really struggle with, which is this kind of life-long learning proposition that might track you over time as you change careers. Now LinkedIn Learning might know more about your career ambitions and what updates have been made to your CV or your resume, what Coursera will know is what courses or topics you clicked on, and so would you agree that that’s the most enticing part of their business model in that it can provide huge numbers, millions of students that might end up in one of your programs, if you’re one of their partners?

0:10:14.0 CH: I do, and if I think about what’s in it for the universities and colleges who have partnered with Coursera, it is essentially a more effective marketing channel, so it reduces their cost of acquisition for new students who might be interested in a single course, or if they’re successful, these specializations or certificate tracks, it’s really difficult for most colleges and universities, even through well-resourced professional studies units to identify the right learner at the right moment. Coursera opens you up to a large pool of learners and it has that intelligence that could help you actually provide a smart recommendation to a student or convince them that your certificate or your degree program is the right next step. I don’t know that that’s always what is panning out behind the scenes, I think confidentially, when I speak with some of their partners, the success rates of getting students into certificates or degrees varies tremendously, and for some of the early learners who are really attracted to Coursera as the MOOC, as the Massive Open Online Course, the more paywalls that they’ve created, the more barriers that they have created where you’re actually having to pay to access content, I’ve heard you say, and I think it’s right, they’re just starting to look a little bit more like a university themselves.

0:11:31.5 CK: Yeah, it’s been interesting following them over the last 10 years to see them rediscover many of the attributes that pundits from outside higher ed criticize about traditional universities being cohort-based, having to physically assemble at some point the high fixed costs or variable cost both of them that are requisite in having enough student support and scaffolding around the student experience, connecting people with alumni, having more synchronous opportunities for people to get individualized one-on-one support, maintaining an alumni network or a personal relationship over time. And so I was telling you before, there was an interesting study as soon as MOOCs were launched about the correlates of success and actually completing one of these massive open auto-didactic course models, and the highest correlate or the thing that correlated most with those who succeeded was having a small study group. So what’s interesting about that, again, is there’s this inability to totally break the economics of education in a way that I think has been frustrating for folks who were hoping to make a lot of money on these programs.

0:12:48.0 CH: I was going back through the history of Coursera, I had actually forgotten that for a short period of time, they offered the learners the option to essentially pay for a mentor, so it reminded me of the Western Governors model or other competency-based models, where you have a coach or a guide that is helping you to understand the concepts in the course, make sure that you follow through, they eventually abandoned that to my understanding within Coursera, but it speaks again to the importance of the wraparound and success, if we actually want this model to work.

0:13:18.2 CK: Yeah, and maybe another issue we could talk through that I think is a point of confusion about these is, we use these broad terms like programs, universities, degrees, learners, students, and I find that the kind of degree and the kind of student and especially the discipline that we’re talking about play huge roles here. So if you poke around the websites of edX and Coursera and Udacity, you will see a lot of very technical fields, you’ll see various fields within Computer Science, User Experience Design, maybe project management. There’s an iMBA from the University of Illinois there, but you don’t see a lot of traditional humanistic Art and Sciences degrees. You don’t see doctoral degrees, so I think one important observation is that they seem to be attracted most to more sort of commoditized and skills-based disciplines, where the degree itself or the prestige of the institution itself is not doing the work, if you wanna hire a software developer or somebody with a project management certification, it’s less that you got it while an undergrad at Penn or Stanford, and more that you could show you have that particular skill.

0:14:36.4 CK: The other thing that a Penn or a Stanford or a Ivy League university sells is the admissions ticket to its undergraduate program, and that’s the area, again, that doesn’t necessarily conflict as much as it’s a totally separate signaling device. So what are your thoughts on which disciplines and program formats are gonna be the most interesting to a company like Coursera?

0:15:01.1 CH: Well, I think this goes back to their 77 million registered learners, and it’s advice I would give to any college or university trying to understand their own strategy, there is the life-long learner who is interested in enrichment courses. Across the last year as folks were weathering the pandemic, many people were simply looking for an outlet, and so if you look at the top five courses on Coursera today, I think two of the five are still things I would put in the enrichment bucket, they’re learning to learn or the science of learning. Those are students who are not necessarily thinking about a skill they need for the job or their next promotion or a career change, they just love the course, and universities and colleges have always had life-long learning enrichment, usually in a continuing education unit. That’s distinct from where you went, which is, I think what I’d call the lifetime student, these are folks who are subject to technological disruption to automation, to their skills simply having a shorter half-life than they used to, so you have this constant need to re-tool in order to just still be productive in your current role, much less go to the next. That’s I think, where you see not only the technical disciplines or the skill-based curriculum, but it’s also where you see more of the paying customers who actually make their way through the stack.

0:16:21.8 CK: Yeah, and speaking of customer segmentation, I don’t know that we talked about yet that Coursera reported their revenues in three different distinct product segments, one was a direct-to-consumer segment, another was enterprise arrangements with businesses or organizations that wanted access for their employees to the Coursera Learning database, and the third was full support of online degrees in the traditional online program management or OPM space. What struck you about that? Did anything surprise you when those revenue figures came out with those three segments?

0:17:00.2 CH: So in part, it didn’t surprise me, they went towards the enterprise segment, and if you look at the revenue growth they experienced over 2020, they were very quick to react to the emergent needs the pandemic created, specifically for folks who were now newly out of work or the employers were trying to retain within their current position, this actually feels like a benefit to the universities and colleges who often struggle with figuring out tuition reimbursement policies or actually structuring successful long-term employer partnerships, when part of the Coursera network, and now employers are paying $400 per employee per year to gain access to the Coursera library and I’m seeing a portion of that revenue as a course provider that actually feels meaningful, to me, that’s where they have to grow, they have to really grow that enterprise base, either through government or employers, that’s something individual colleges still struggle with, that would be a reason to continue to partner.

0:17:57.7 CK: Yeah, and we’ve talked before about some of the challenges in, I guess, both attracting and supporting the adult learner market. What have been the lessons learned for you, knowing a lot of deans of graduate schools and folks who head up continuing in online education units, those folks actually I think would have a lot of good advice to Coursera’s board and to a lot of these more, I guess you would call the elite institutions that might be newer to this space, what do you think they could learn from a… Arizona State is a Coursera partner, but a UCF, Central Florida are one of these schools that spent the last couple of decades really serving adult professional students.

0:18:39.0 CH: For me, and this will actually… I think some of their success in the enterprise model will hinge on getting this right. You can’t leave things to chance, you can’t assume that because you provide the platform or access to courses that individual students will have the wherewithal, the motivation, the financial incentive to actually see the course through. It goes back to where you started as it’s why the completion rates were so low even on the Massive Open Online Courses. Most adult learning organizations have realized that it’s as much about the curriculum, it’s as much about the skill and the content and what they teach, that’s part of it. The bigger part of it is all the wrap-around, and it’s all of the guidance that they provide to help people actually understand career paths and next steps to actually understand the value of what you’re taking and why that might be applicable, given how the world is changing or your industry is changing. Most people are pretty lost when they’re out there, they aren’t as thoughtful about their next career steps as we like to believe that they are, and frankly, they’re too busy to be completely self-motivated when it comes to continued education.

0:19:44.4 CK: Yeah, it’s interesting when you think about what we often at EAB call the online giants, national institutions that serve the adult student almost exclusively and have grown to, in some cases more than 100,000 students, I think of Western Governors University and not-for-profit of national institution, almost entirely online, I think may be entirely online, headquartered in Utah, a Southern New Hampshire University or SNHU, now, I think has reached 139,000 students, and at least for Western Governors University, it’s a really scary and fascinating model. Really no tenure track faculty in the traditional mold that you would think about in Higher Ed, and remember, Coursera, edX, Udacity started with saying, “These are the most world-renowned tenured faculty in their fields from Ivy League, famous global research universities, don’t you want access to those courses?” Out of Western Governors, almost all of the personnel costs for them are Student Success coaches, they’re part-time employees often working from home, who will call you Carla and say, “Hey, I know it’s Tuesday night, I know this is the time we talked about you dedicating after you put your kids to bed, you were gonna complete this quiz and that gets to the next step. How is that going?”

0:21:03.0 CK: And that kind of coaching. And I used the word scaffolding earlier, the support you need to surround those students with. And you described it perfectly, they’ve got complicated lives, they’re managing multiple things at once, they wanna go back and complete their degree, get a certificate done, become a nurse, whatever it might be, they need a lot of hand holding, encouragement, support and customization of the curriculum, be able to proceed at their own pace, and especially when you don’t have that face-to-face cohort experience, having that kind of one-on-one support is crucial. So to me, that’s one of the biggest lessons in both getting the student enrolled in the first place, if they’re an adult student with a busy life, and making sure they’re actually completing the assignments, it’s unclear how you do that easily at scale in a model like the traditional Coursera MOOC model.

0:21:56.8 CH: Even if we think of… I certainly don’t believe that MOOC disrupted higher education. It’s been a decade now. I think we can put that to rest. I do think they pushed us in ways to think about what we need to do to supplement the core traditional model, and we need to give them kudos that in 2020, about a year ago now, when institutions needed to move to remote instruction, they opened up a Coursera for campus option, where you could as an institution now give all of your undergrad, and I suppose grad students access to the Coursera platform helped them to maintain time to degree complete their courses online. I think even many of the elite institutions, they’ve really pushed Coursera through their partnership conferences on what more can we do here to augment and supplement the core curriculum that we’re delivering. So I think it’s not a either/or, maybe this is about both and.

0:22:53.2 CK: Yeah, what has this told you about… I’m just remembering how many pundits and even provost presidents and boards, were worried about disintermediating the commodity courses, the gen ed courses, the big lecture courses on campuses, so the famous question that would be asked is, Why do we need a 100 different versions of calculus or anatomy in physiology? Well, the Harvard or the Stanford or the Princeton professor really just have the best calculus course, and once you have a company like Outlier, now is a famous one, the Great Courses or MasterClass or an edX or Coursera, once they put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a really space-age futuristic version of a course, shouldn’t all of these lecturers everywhere else just use that? Has that happened? And if not, ’cause I think it hasn’t happened. Why hasn’t it happened?

0:23:51.3 CH: No, I don’t think it had. I think the institutions, even over the course of the last year, continue to struggle with the credit part of this equation, so if you go to Coursera today, you’ll see a lot of asterisks across the website around the credit and whether or not that will count toward your degree, there are other disruptors who’ve tried to think about Gen Ed, I think StraighterLine is the one that comes to mind for me, where they took some basic math courses, basic English and creative writing courses, there was still a real struggle for faculty to accept those credits. I could see, and I think Higher Ed should push harder here, even within your institution or perhaps across a public system, I do think we could get better about saying, Here’s the basics, you can get the basic lecture component of this course online. Now, what I’m gonna do locally is contextualize that and I’m gonna think about the co-curricular experiential components, those study groups you mentioned, I’m gonna bring people together and make sure they’ve actually mastered the content, so we should do more there, but Higher Ed is reluctant, I think, to give away those credit hour dollars.

0:24:58.4 CK: Yeah, I often like to analogize just to libraries. If the main job being done by university was come here so you can access information about nuclear physics or whatever it might be, you really never needed to physically drive to a university for that, you can figure it out if you’ve got a lot of free time, you’re highly self-motivated and you have the academic or intellectual prerequisites. But it turns out, again, that students are going to schools for a lot of other reasons that are bolted on to the access to the information. One is to just have the moment in time where someone is telling you, Okay, learn this, and then learn this and then do this, and all of this adds up to something that the market knows is a credential. Another is to have some skin in the game. Something you’re actually paying for, that means in the universe of ways I could spend my time, Hey, I’ve invested in this, and I’m gonna do what the university tells me, it’s not this perpetual option.

0:26:02.4 CK: A third is that all the pedagogical research shows that it’s really hard to learn just reading endlessly on your own, it helps to be able to troubleshoot and talk about things live in a sort of cohort-Ed or peered-based environment. And then finally, students, when they enroll in traditional degree programs, also want to meet new people, they wanna network, they wanna associate with an athletics team, they wanna feel like they’ve joined a tribe, there are all these other things going on beyond the mere access to information that are critical. And again, I find that is sort of frustrating to folks that think similar to how Napster or iTunes totally, not destroyed, but really hurt the traditional middleman in that field, the record companies. Why can’t that happen by just disintermediating the university from the teacher and the student? And I think it’s because of it’s not just that mp3 file that you want conveniently, you want to actually have those sets of experiences that still do largely require you working with a traditional degree program.

0:27:13.2 CH: That’s I think why also Coursera is certainly global, not only in the students and learners it reaches, but also the universities and colleges it partners with. But there’s a real difference when you think about the international student market, what they value, I think you could see a lot of life-long learners in that market internationally who love the opportunity to hear from a Duke or a Harvard, or a Michigan or a Stanford professor. But when it comes to the actual credential and experience, it starts to shift, and one of the things I think Coursera may be up against is the way we think about pricing or the value of higher education in the United States doesn’t really translate across the globe. Think about how we price post-secondary in the United States compared to how Germany does, right? So when you start to think about these online degree programs at a premium, these are not inexpensive, even though they’re less maybe than the in-person. I think that they’ll also have a little bit of a struggle with scale there.

0:28:10.2 CK: And we’ve been tracking Carla, some of the pricing experiments, or at least the consequences of some of these efforts to achieve a middle ground between traditional online degrees and the MOOC model. And the two I’ve been thinking about are the Georgia Tech Computer Science Master’s degree through Udacity, a different similar MOOC provider, which I think was famously priced at about $7000 all in for a two- or three-year master’s degree and you can proceed at your own pace, but far less than most of our listeners on the line would want to price their Masters of Computer Science. They spent a ton of money to design those courses, they still have the traditional ground-based, or at least pre-2020, it was ground-based Masters of Computer Science program. And I think one of the interesting things we found there was that it really didn’t cannibalize necessarily the traditional ground-based program, it opened up an entirely new almost additive market. The overlap between the applicant pools was quite small, so if you apply to the face-to-face program, it’s not that likely that you applied to the online program, and vice versa.

0:29:19.6 CK: Now, in other places, I think the MBA has been one where the University of Illinois literally stopped its traditional ground-based MBA program and said, It’s all about the iMBA now, and they went from just a kind of dwindling few hundred students left in that ground-based MBA program to thousands and thousands of students now enrolled in the iMBA program, which I think is about $22,000 a year, so again, far less than those traditional executive or ground-based MBA programs. So I think what’s happening now is there’s this opening up of a much larger internationally, globally branded set of master’s degrees, and that is, I think quite scary for other institutions that are gonna wanna defend their territory against that price point, which might not be very sustainable at 20 or 50 or 100 students, it’s sustainable once you get to, I think Georgia Tech might be at 10,000 now in that computer science program.

0:30:23.6 CH: I think your point there about how they’re serving different market segments is really important, what I respected about the University of Illinois decision as they looked at the overall MBA market, and they said, We’re never gonna be able to compete for a particular profile, but we can do so much more good if we move into this model that is more scaled, is at a more affordable price point. What’s also nice about this model is, it can be a bit more responsive to the skill switches that happen and are more relevant in a business curriculum, potentially given its alignment to professional fields than some of the others. Georgia Tech is the same here. Exactly, right. They’re serving a completely different student segment, they were watching that closely and many faculty were asking, Is this gonna be the end of the ground-based program? And actually, no, it seems to appeal to a very different profile.

0:31:11.5 CK: Yeah. Do you foresee, the lists of the institutions working with these providers changing over time? We’ve been talking earlier about 2U formally 2tor, which isn’t one of these online program management firms that started as a very elite exclusive arrangements with one program from one elite institution to now a much more expansive list of clients and partners they work with. Same thing with, I think Coursera and edX, where they might have started, again, just with the Ivy League, but you have the University of North Texas offering an accelerated bachelor’s degree, more access-focused institution, focused on an adult finish my degree market, not just that enrichment market interested about the star professors. So what do you see the overall archetype of the kind of school that’s gonna work with these groups, how is that gonna be shaped in the next decade, do you think?

0:32:08.8 CH: I do think that understandably had to be a switch in that plan, so if you’re going to scale… 2U, of course, also public, Coursera soon to be, if you’re going to achieve that sort of scale, year over year revenue growth, they also have year over year losses, but they’re working on it, then you have to open up your market. And I actually think it’s a promising thing that they’re not just focused on the selectives, who quite frankly were very slow to online education and the kind of innovation that comes from sitting in a different position on the Higher Education segment, landscape. I think this last year too, Coursera welcomed many, many more universities and colleges into their partnership out of necessity because people were scrambling and trying to make sure that they had enough online content, when the pandemic forced us to move remote. I don’t think they’ll walk back from that, I think they’ll become more expansive. I think my question would be, at what point does a university though feel like they could walk away?

0:33:04.6 CH: I can do this myself, how much benefit am I actually getting from the marketing channel? Coursera is not providing you the kind of instructional design support or necessarily even analytics that a two year or another OPM provides. So I do wonder, one, for how long do they need Coursera? And two, well, the fact that Coursera now offers a lot of employer-based certifications, grow with Google, Microsoft, how long will universities wanna play in that pool or will they start to see that as competition?

0:33:33.7 CK: Yeah, it’s gonna be a really interesting market to watch, and I think one thing we’ve talked about a lot here at EAB is, where everyone is competing in a much more cut-throat economy for a shrinking share, or a shrinking pool of available students. And we’ve talked about the work of Dr. Nathan Grawe at Carleton University and others who’ve talked about that traditional pipeline of 18-year-olds, it’s not drying up, but not being a ever-growing source of revenues for the 4000-plus colleges and universities in the US. And where is their potentially new revenue or new enrollment to be gained from folks who just haven’t been consuming, the non-consumption segment before? And my, at least theory at the moment is that these are scary providers or efforts in eating up some of that non-consumption and finding ways to go after very aggressively folks who don’t know that education is the right next step for them, folks who are put off or confused by university websites, folks who are just Googling things like complete my degree fast or project management certification or UX design, I think some of these big online players and folks who are able to spend over 100 million a year in marketing, in some cases, it’s gonna be really tough to compete with them over time to get to those student segments.

0:34:57.5 CK: So one piece of advice I often give schools is, don’t forget about your own alumni, a much easier to retain the affiliation, the affinity, the interest of folks who went to Carla Hickman College over time as you upscale or you need upscaling or change your career. That’s gonna be a much lower acquisition cost for you, but there are gonna be millions of students around the globe who you’re really competing with some of these big players to get their attention and their dollar, and I think that’s only gonna get harder. Would you agree with that or offer any other key takeaways for folks as they think about the threat that Coursera poses?

0:35:37.2 CH: Yeah, I hope everyone really takes a moment to think about the difference between the lifetime student and the life-long learner. I’m gonna make that a thing. So the lifetime student, the way finding, the support that they need in understanding career paths that a university or a college can support, the student success, the wrap around, not discounting how powerful that can be, and I agree that your alumni community is an incredibly important one. I think whether your institution partners with a Coursera, an edX or someone else, one thing also to take away is that employers are actually investing. So typically in a recession, we see tuition reimbursement policies slashed, we do not see employers signing up for a $400 per employee benefit that is focused on learning and development, we’re seeing that, at least across the last year. And universities and colleges themselves, I think can rethink their model of working and benefiting from the interest from employers and navigating this market.

0:36:34.9 CH: And more than anything, I think it’s also gonna push us on price. So you’re right, if I’m a consumer and I can go to the Coursera site, I can see a subscription model, I can see something like a $49 per month fee. I have those conversations with partners, particularly in professional and continuing education, I think Higher Ed really needs to accelerate their pricing flexibility, we need to start adopting models that are more consumer-focused and meet these students where they are.

0:37:02.4 CK: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. Well, Carla it’s been… [chuckle] I was gonna say, it’s been a pleasure to reconnect with you on this topic, and like many things associated with online learning and disruptors, this will probably be out of date in six or 12 months, so I look forward to reconnecting to take stock of Coursera’s 2021 in that time.

0:37:25.1 CH: That’s right, and we are certainly at EAB gonna continue to watch not only Coursera, but all of the work that universities and colleges are doing coming out of the pandemic, fingers crossed, knocked on wood, when it comes to online and hybrid education. So thanks so much for joining us.

0:37:40.4 CK: Thank you.


0:37:49.6 Speaker 1: Thank you for listening. Join us next week when we welcome Craig Robinson to the podcast. Craig is the president of College Possible, and he’ll be sitting down with EAB’s Meacie Fairfax to share strategies for building effective partnerships with public and private institutions. Until then, thank you for listening to Office Hours with EAB.


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