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- MIT and Harvard form Axim Collaborative, a nonprofit aimed at promoting online education innovation.
- Funded by $800 million from the 2021 edX platform sale, the organization targets underserved learners.
- Axim Collaborative plans to partner with stakeholders, offering grants and collaborations to improve student engagement and career outcomes.
Executives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have been contemplating the optimal use of $800 million to establish a new nonprofit dedicated to fostering innovation in online education. Their solution is the recently-founded Axim Collaborative, a nonprofit organization concentrating on supporting learners who have typically been underserved by higher education institutions.
Axim Collaborative’s newly-appointed CEO, Stephanie Khurana, stated in an interview with EdSurge that the mission’s primary objective is to “truly aid postsecondary completion and address issues related to economic mobility.”
To comprehend the new nonprofit’s purpose, it is essential to understand its complex origins. The $800 million funding for the initiative comes from the contentious 2021 decision by the two universities to sell their edX online learning platform to 2U, a private company assisting colleges in launching online degree or certificate programs in exchange for a portion of tuition revenue. The sale to a for-profit company was met with criticism, as edX had long emphasized its nonprofit status and autonomy from capitalist pressures. In response, officials at MIT and Harvard underscored the potential benefits for online education resulting from the $800 million generated by the sale.
Axim Collaborative plans to treat its $800 million funding as an endowment, operating on an annual budget of approximately $25 to $30 million. This approach suggests a series of smaller grants and collaborations instead of one large, high-profile initiative. The new nonprofit will also continue to manage the Open edX platform, the open-source system hosting edX courses and available for use by any institution with the necessary technical expertise and computer servers.
Phil Hill, an experienced education consultant and blogger, criticized the planned spending pace, arguing that the investment could have been used more effectively than simply maintaining the status quo. Hill also questioned the uniqueness of Axim Collaborative’s approach, given that many existing nonprofits and philanthropic organizations already aim to improve college completion rates and broaden access to higher education.
In response, Khurana emphasized that the strategy is to connect existing stakeholders and institutions with the knowledge and research experience of MIT and Harvard professors. “The idea is to be a catalyst within this ecosystem,” she said.
Axim Collaborative’s goal is to collaborate with other organizations to support projects that enhance student engagement in online courses or facilitate better college and career outcomes. This may involve conducting research, developing tech tools, or assisting in organizational management.
Khurana, former COO of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, said it is too early to specify the types of grants and research Axim Collaborative will prioritize, emphasizing that her first step is to understand how to best utilize their resources to drive innovation.
Ultimately, she argued that creating a sustainable organization is the most effective way to help the largest number of students. “The best stewardship is to help existing institutions sustain and grow and adapt to support those learners over time,” she said. “I think we can make an enormous difference.”
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