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Ashwin Damera is the founder and CEO of Emeritus, an online program management company.

He graciously agreed to answer my questions.

Q: What is Emeritus? How come the Emeritus name is not so well-known in the U.S.? And why should higher ed people know about Emeritus?

A: Emeritus offers online certificate courses in collaboration with leading universities. We follow a SPOC model (small, private online course) with a high-touch student experience. In the last 12 months we enrolled 9,500 students; our courses saw an 87 percent completion rate. In the next 12 months, we will triple our enrollments to 30,000 students.

Seventy-five percent of our students are non-U.S. and this is perhaps why we are less known in the U.S.

As more students learn online, there is a huge opportunity for higher education institutions to reach global audiences through a platform like Emeritus. We can provide a 360-degree solution to our partners -- course creation, marketing and enrollment, tech platform and student success.

Q: What universities does Emeritus currently partner with? What courses and credentials does Emeritus offer?

A: We partner with MIT, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Wharton and the University of California, Berkeley, to offer online certificate courses in areas such as management, digital business, design thinking and entrepreneurship.

Q: How many learners have received credentials from Emeritus? Where do these learners live?

A: In the last 12 months we enrolled 9,500 students from the following regions:

  • U.S.: 25 percent
  • India: 14 percent
  • Latin America: 16 percent
  • Europe: 22 percent
  • Southeast Asia: 18 percent
  • Middle East/North Africa: 5 percent

Q: How does Emeritus differentiate itself from players like GetSmarter, 2U's recently acquired nondegree program partner?

A: Emeritus is far more global in its enrollments. We will soon launch courses in Spanish and Portuguese. Also, we enroll students via both B2C and B2B channels. We have B2B sales teams based out of Singapore, India and Dubai. On the teaching front, most courses we offer have live teaching with either the university’s faculty or industry experts.

And we remain a private company without the worry of quarterly earning reports. This means we can have a long-term view on everything we do.

Q: My sense is that many higher ed people don't like the online learning partnership model, as they dislike having the majority of revenues go to the companies (not the schools) and the long contract lock-ins. They also dislike outsourcing core competencies like instructional design. How does Emeritus answer these objections?

A: Emeritus bears all marketing costs. If you think of the revenue share as net of marketing, our partners keep nearly two-thirds. In addition, we make investments in technology and in course creation, which are up-front costs.

We don’t seek long-term contract lock-ins; we are far more reasonable on this front.

I think of ourselves as trusted collaborators. We regularly share our learnings with our partner schools. We have no issues if a school wants to do the instructional design and develop those capabilities. The online education space is still in a nascent stage. There is so much to learn. In our collaborative approach, we like to create -- best practices and next practices -- along with our partners.

Q: How much does a certificate from Emeritus cost? How does this compare with other options, such as a certificate with 2U?

A: Certificate costs vary from $1,200 to $3,750. These are much more expensive than MOOC courses, but then, the learning outcomes are far better.

Q: How is Emeritus funded? Is there an exit strategy for Emeritus to be purchased by a large, established OPM or publisher (such as GetSmarter was with 2U)?

A: Emeritus raised $8 million from Bertelsmann in 2017. We continue to make significant investments in course creation, learning technology and marketing tech. We intend to remain private. This gives us the ability to take a long-term view. Our university partners have established their reputation over many decades. By having a long-term view, we can ensure that we always think of what's right for them and for the students.

What would you like to ask Ashwin? Did you know about Emeritus? What other OPM companies would you like me to ask these questions of? What are your thoughts about the OPM model?

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