A building is topped by blue letters reading 2U.

Private companies are playing a crucial role in driving innovation within the emerging online education space, according to experts. They are injecting investment, flexibility, and entrepreneurial thinking into the often risk-averse higher education system.

“Private companies are much quicker to adapt to changes and are willing to take more risks,” said Ivan Zuniga, president of 2U, an education technology company that partners with non-profit colleges to develop online degree programs. “They have the freedom and flexibility to move fast, try new approaches, and pivot as needed to meet students’ needs.”

While non-profit colleges often face more constraints, private companies’ willingness to disrupt established practices and explore new delivery models is helping to make high-quality, low-cost online education more accessible. They can also spread innovation from one institution to many through partnerships.

Private companies not only bring new perspectives but also new funding to support ambitious projects, especially for underserved student groups. Investors see opportunity in the online education space and are pouring billions into startups focused on personalization, skills credentials, career support services, and more.

Some critics argue private companies’ primary goal is profit over purpose, and that they lack the public mission of colleges. However, proponents counter that private companies can be just as mission-driven, and that they increase options, competition, and support for learners in the system. They also generate new ideas and push the field forward as a whole.

Private and public sector players each have unique advantages, suggesting they should collaborate rather than compete whenever possible. By partnering, they can combine the speed and flexibility of private companies with the academic expertise, degree authority, and public good orientation of colleges.

While the debate around private vs. public control of education will likely continue, most experts agree both have vital and complementary roles to play in designing innovative solutions, expanding access, and advancing quality and relevance. With openness to new ideas from various providers, the future of online education can be built through partnership, not partisanship.

With investment, entrepreneurship and a spirit of cooperation, private companies and colleges together have the potential to transform learning, open pathways to opportunity, and meet the changing needs of students, employers and society. But it will require looking beyond differences to shared goals and the interests of learners above all else.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *