One thing that I think our university community does particularly poorly is how we understand the people who work at for-profit education companies.
We tend to fail to separate how we think about ed-tech companies (including online program managers) from how we feel about the people who work in ed tech.
In all the years that I’ve collaborated with for-profit ed-tech companies, the main conclusion I’ve drawn is that most of the people working at these companies are pretty great.
More often than not, the ed-tech people that university people work with daily share a similar set of values and motivations as we (university) people do.
I’ve learned that projects between schools and companies go much better if the work is relational and not transactional and if you consider ed-tech people colleagues.
For all those reasons, the recent 2U news that hit me hardest was the announcement that the company would be laying off 20 percent of its employees in an effort to transition to a platform player and cut costs.
How would we react if we heard that 20 percent of faculty and staff were being let go at a university?
If we think of at least some of those 2U folks as colleagues and as fellow educators, does the fact that they will be losing their jobs maybe cut a bit deeper?
Many people gravitate to ed-tech jobs because they think it is at a company that they can make the most significant difference. Ed-tech companies like 2U work across the higher education ecosystem. They move quickly and are built to take the sort of risks that universities are not.
Many of the people who work at companies like 2U—and who I worry will be losing their jobs—are just like us at universities. We could be them, and they could be us.
2U has long been dedicated to promoting a diverse workforce. We should worry that the layoffs at 2U and other ed-tech companies might set back our efforts to build a more inclusive higher education ecosystem.
If you are one of those people at 2U or other companies whose future feels uncertain, you have my support. If there is anything that I can do to help you find that next gig, either at a university or another ed-tech company, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Whatever our feelings about the OPM revenue-share model, or for-profit ed-tech companies in general, we should do everything we can to understand and assist the people who work in this area of education.
Living through any downsizing and layoffs is a terrible experience. We should do what we can to empathize with colleagues now facing that reality.