Coursera seeks IPO following a watershed year for online education

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • Coursera, one of the world’s largest MOOC platforms, is attempting to become a publicly-traded company, following a year in which much of postsecondary education occurred online.
  • According to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, it wants to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol COUR and is seeking to raise up to $100 million.
  • Coursera plans to grow the company by adding more online degrees and investing in services that help colleges teach classes remotely.

Dive Insight:

Coursera seeks

Coursera launched in 2012 as one of the first MOOC providers. According to the SEC filing, by the end of last year, its platform offered more than 4,000 online courses created with 150-plus universities.

The company has branched out in recent years. It offered its first master’s degree in 2015 and its first bachelor’s degree in 2018. It also launched a service in 2019 called Coursera for Campus, which lets colleges use the company’s content. In its IPO prospectus, the company offered one of the first detailed looks at how it has been faring.

Users flocked to Coursera for online education during the pandemic. The number of people registered on its platform swelled to around 77 million in 2020, up from 46 million the prior year.

It also nearly doubled the number of students enrolled in its degree programs, from around 6,200 at the end of 2019 to almost 12,000 a year later. Those programs brought in nearly $30 million in 2020 compared to about $15 million the year before.

About half of the new students in Coursera’s degree programs in 2020 had already been registered on the platform. That could lower the company’s marketing costs and allow it to offer lower-priced online degrees, said Phil Hill, a partner at the ed-tech consulting firm MindWires. “If that can really prove to be sustainable, that’s going to have a big impact on the (online program management) market,” he added.

During the early months of the pandemic, the company temporarily made Coursera for Campus free. It now offers a few plans with some free options.

A Coursera spokesperson told Higher Ed Dive late last year the company is focused on investing in this service and is using the $130 million it raised last year to grow its content catalog and expand internationally.

More than 130 colleges are paying customers of Coursera for Campus, according to its SEC filing. Overall, revenue from colleges, businesses, and government agencies brought in $71 million for the company in 2020, a 47% increase from the year before.  The momentum is likely a big part of the reason Coursera is going public now, Hill said.

Still, the company faces headwinds. Though its revenue grew by more than half to $294 million last year, its net loss increased 43% to nearly $67 million. Coursera noted in its SEC filing that it has incurred significant net losses since its start and doesn’t expect to be profitable “for the foreseeable future” as it expands its platform and improves its technology.

It’s also unclear if colleges and students will disfavor online learning once more face-to-face options become available. “[W]e cannot predict whether these trends will continue if and when the pandemic begins to subside, restrictions ease, and the risk and barriers associated with in-person learning and training decrease,” the company wrote.

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