US based online university platform Nexford University raised $8 million in a Series A round co-led by New Markets Venture Partners and Learn Capital, two prominent US edtech venture capital firms that have invested in Pathstream, Udemy and Coursera. New Markets Venture Partners general partner Jason Palmer and Learn Capital managing partner Greg Mauro will join Nexford’s board.
The tech startup launched by Fadl Al Tarzi in 2019 fills the gaps in accessibility and relevance in education. As the traditional university experience has not changed for many years, edtechs like Nexford are pioneering a paradigm shift in higher education that puts learners first, equipping them with the skills to succeed now and in the future.
Nexford University provides learners with a fully online education and allows them to study at their own pace. Once learners apply and are admitted to a degree or course programme, they choose how fast or slow they want the programme. Nexford’s most significant markets are traditionally underserved English-speaking communities such as Nigeria. The West African country is the only market where the US-based edtech has learning community spaces that help learners work around infrastructure issues like internet and transportation. The company plans to launch such centers in markets such as Kenya and the Philippines.
Nexford University offers the same programs as last year. Undergraduate degrees include courses in business administration, AI and automation, business analytics and product management; business administration, advanced AI, e-commerce, hyper-connectivity, sustainability and global business courses are graduate programs. In a recent interview with TechCrunch, CEO Al Tarzi said his company plans to add more programs such as software engineering, data science, clean energy, business analytics, digital marketing and project management in the next six to twelve months based on demand from learners.
The CEO also mentioned that Nexford intends to launch several training programs – six-month programs designed to provide trainees with the skills they need to land specific jobs in five vertical areas, including the aforementioned new courses – to supplement their degree programs.
“Pathways programs will also be incorporated into our educational programs,” he said. “This means that when you complete the training program, if you want to go on and earn a master’s or bachelor’s degree, you will be able to do that,” he said. “But if you have a job and want to come back a few months later, you could do that too. So the pathway will give you the skills you need and a certain percentage towards a formal college degree.”
This ordering factor is one of several ways Nexford differs from traditional institutions, Al Tarzi said. He also praises the platform’s day-to-day academic support and accessibility, adding that conventional US universities can charge three or four times Nexford’s price for training programs. For example, Nexford accredited degrees cost between $3,000 and $4,000 (which are paid in monthly installments), but the average annual tuition for a master’s degree in the US is around $36,000.
Regardless of price and unique selling propositions, edtech platforms must prioritize results. In all three years of Nexford’s existence, the measurement of results has changed. Many traditional and new edtech startups measure learning outcomes through internships. For Nexford, it’s just one of three, including getting a promotion and a raise and applying real-life courses to grow a business as an entrepreneur.
“I think one of the most fundamental developments that we’ve had is that we now have a lot more learner data and outcomes data that gives us more confidence that our graduates are successful after graduation,” said the CEO . “In our last survey, we saw that about 92% achieved this.”
Internally, the edtech platform also wants to improve operations by becoming profitable. Al Tarzi said Nexford is operating with positive margins coming from 2x revenue in 2021 compared to the previous year and enrollments increasing from 70 countries to 90+ this year.
Last June, the three-year-old startup announced a $10.8 million pre-Series A round. It seems to be a downward circle; Al Tarzi, however, disagreed, saying the company’s Series A valuation was relatively higher than its last raise and citing the drop in funding size to a “significantly oversubscribed and expanded” pre-Series A.
Participating investors in its Series A round include the International Finance Corporation-founded Learn Emerging Markets Fund (IFC), Bisk Ventures, Global Ventures, Future Africa, UK-based investment firm AMK Investments and Future of Learning Fund.
Nexford said in a statement that the proceeds will take it into new markets, expand the company’s academic offerings, including career development programs, and improve its technology infrastructure. “We will continue to invest in product and geographic expansion and technology. The latter allows us to operate as efficiently as we do, so we will not have to increase our tuition fees,” said the CEO. “Last year, we reduced customer retention costs by almost 50%, and this is directly attributable to operational efficiencies enabled by technology. So we will continue to invest in technology to increase efficiency and keep tuition fees for learners now.”