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Levin's next act: Coursera CEO

Rick Levin '74PhD is in California on a sabbatical from Yale this academic year after serving 20 years as the university's president, but it now looks like his time on the west coast will be extended indefinitely. The online education company Coursera announced today that Levin will become its chief executive officer in April.

Coursera is one of the largest for-profit players in the growing business of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, partnering with more than 100 universities and other instituions to provide free online classes. Yale announced its first partnership with Coursera last year. The Chronicle of Higher Education described Levin's hiring as an attempt by Coursera “to bolster its academic bona fides.”

During Levin's tenure as president, Yale launched its own program called Open Yale Courses, in which professors’ lectures are recorded and made accessible to anyone online. But unlike MOOCs, they don't include assesment or feedback from instructors.

Just how companies like Coursera will be profitable is still unclear. The company charges a fee to users for a certificate showing they completed a course. Levin told Bloomberg News that “only a small fraction are taking up certificates, but we think over time that fraction could grow.”

In the New York Times, Levin cited his ties to China as a potential advantage for Coursera; China is already the company's second-largest market behind the United States. “It’s growing rapidly, and I’m very much hoping my relations with Chinese university presidents and the Ministry of Education will help that along,” Levin told the Times.

A native Californian and Stanford graduate, Levin will be working at Coursera’s headquarters in Mountain View, the Silicon Valley town that is also home to Google. And perhaps not coincidentally, all four of Levin’s children now live in the Golden State.

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The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under online education, MOOCs, Coursera, Rick Levin

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