Meet the Architect Behind the New Digital University: Q&A with 2U CEO Chip Paucek

February 1, 2017

2U CEO Chip Paucek

Chip Paucek is leading the charge to change the face of 21st century higher education. As co-founder and CEO of 2U, an education technology company that partners with leading universities to deliver online degrees, he is helping some of the most established names in higher education including USC, Berkeley, and Yale scale their graduate programs without sacrificing student quality. More than 21,000 students are enrolled in 2U-powered programs generating more than a billion dollars in tuition and fees for 2U’s university partners. With a student retention rate of 84%, 2U is making online education a viable option – and even a competitive necessity – for traditional universities.

Paucek was a featured speaker at LinkedIn’s Education Connect in New York and discussed what the future holds for online higher education. Here are some highlights:

1. What does the university of the future look like?

Higher education is undergoing radical transformation. We’re proving that. Great universities that embrace this transformation and act accordingly will not only survive, they will thrive in this new era. Great digital universities will blur the line between in-person and online. Great digital universities will seamlessly provide their students the flexibility to study from anywhere across the globe while making them a part of a real community. Great digital universities will teach classes live over the Internet, place students locally in clinical sites, and hold classes on campus.

Great digital universities will be one of the most powerful vehicles for change and upward mobility.

2. How is 2U making this future a reality?

Our mission is to help our partner universities offer high quality degree programs online that are equal to, or better than, on-campus. By becoming the best possible digital versions of themselves, our partners can offer more students access to life-changing educational experiences than ever before.

3. What is the biggest misconception about online higher education?

Preconceived notions about online higher education are often negative. When people think online education they don’t think of schools like Berkeley, they think online degree programs are low quality and are not engaging. But those perceptions are changing and will continue to change over time.

Today, our partner universities are taking great strides in integrating online degree programs to provide the highest quality education to students no matter where they live or work. We’re helping them embrace the power of technology to further their missions and expand access to educational opportunities critical to the future of the U.S. and the world. For the first time ever, we live in a time where you don’t have to quit your job, pick up your life, and move to attend grad school. That’s a pretty big secular change.

4. How do you measure the success of your organization?

The success of 2U is measured by the success of our partner programs. If their programs are thriving, which they are, then we are being effective brand stewards for universities who have been around for more than 200 years.

There are specific data points that reflect our success as well. For example, we have found that most higher education institutions traditionally have been global brands, but regional businesses. Because of this we are helping our partner schools to become global businesses, too. Over the life of our partnership, we track how the regional bias for a school’s search volume changes over time.

5. How is the marketing landscape in higher ed changing overall?

Marketing should not be a dirty word in higher education.

Marketing is about access, opening the door to people who may not have known that this kind of opportunity is available.

At 2U we do this with data. It’s all about data. We recently unveiled a product that enables us to track micro transactions of a student from their first interaction with a program all the way through graduation. This data enables us to improve outcomes for our partners’ students which means improving factors like student retention.

I often tell people 2U is a company that does well by doing good. The reality is if a student comes in the program that we’ve recruited and he or she drops out of the program we lose. As a student succeeds, then graduates, that is a positive outcome for the student, the university, and 2U.

6. How has social media changed the way universities market their programs?

Universities used to be able to attract students simply because of their brand name. Now, particularly at the graduate level, brand names aren't enough. Students are looking beyond that to determine whether universities have the right customizable degree programs for them. They are looking for more detailed information to make the right choice. Universities need to work harder and faster if they’re going to remain competitive in the higher education landscape.

For 2U, that means finding the right students with the right background at the right time for the right program. And again, we go back to data. Today 2U can predict the likelihood of enrollment the moment someone enters the marketing funnel. LinkedIn has been an important partner in developing our data knowledge. Users willingly provide LinkedIn with their professional information (current job function, industry, field of study, etc.) and in turn we are able to leverage our internal data, such as top industries that students from program XYZ are in, to create high-intent audiences for prospect generation.

7. Tell us about #NoBackRow.

Our hashtag is No Back Row. We all know the back row. The seats closest to the exits, a refuge for minds that wander. We believe our platform allows for quality online education that eliminates the back row and brings every student forward. No Back Row is also our corporate philosophy: the idea that every person counts; each person is and feels included; and when we each lean in and do our part, we are better individually and collectively.

Thank you, Chip. Learn more about the story of 2U and other leaders in higher education by viewing the highlights from our annual conference on our Education Connect 2016 site.