US online university platform Nexford University has raised $8 million in Series A 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.
A technology enabled startup, launched by Fadl Al Tarzi in 2019, fills the gaps in accessibility and relevance in education. As the traditional university experience hasn’t changed in many years, edtechs like Nexford are pioneering a paradigm shift in higher education that puts students first, giving them the skills to succeed now and in the future.
Nexford University offers students a fully online education and allows them to learn at their own pace. After students apply and are admitted to a study program or course, they choose how fast or slow they want the program to be. Nexford’s most important markets are traditionally underserved English-speaking communities like Nigeria. The West African nation is the only market where the US-based edtech has community learning spaces that help students with infrastructure issues like internet and transportation. The company plans to launch these centers in markets such as Kenya and the Philippines.
Nexford University offers the same programs as last year. Bachelor’s degrees include courses in business administration, artificial intelligence and automation, business analytics and product management; courses in business administration, advanced artificial intelligence, e-commerce, hyper-connectivity, sustainability and global business 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 for trainees.
The CEO also mentioned that Nexford intends to launch several pathway programs – six-month programs designed to equip students with the skills needed to land specific jobs in five verticals, including the new courses mentioned above – to complement their degree programs.
“Path programs will also accumulate in our degree programs,” he said. “So that means when you finish the track program, if you want to go on and get a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, you can do that,” he said. “But if you have a job and want to come back a few months later, you can do that too. Therefore, the pathway will give you the necessary skills and a certain percentage towards a formal university degree.”
This stacking factor is one of several ways Nexford differs from traditional institutions, Al Tarzi said. He also praises the platform’s daily academic support and affordability, adding that major US universities can charge up to three or four times Nexford’s price for degree programs. For example, Nexford-accredited degrees cost between $3,000 and $4,000 (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. Even in the three years of Nexford’s existence, the measurement of results has changed. Many traditional and emerging edtech startups measure learning outcomes by placements. For Nexford, it’s just one of three, including getting promotions and raises and applying real-life lessons to growing a business as an entrepreneur.
“I think one of the most fundamental advances we’ve had is that we now have a lot more student data and outcomes data that gives us more confidence that our alumni are succeeding in graduate school,” the executive director said. “In our last survey, we saw that about 92% achieved this.”
Internally, the edtech platform also wants to improve the business by making it profitable. Al Tarzi said Nexford is operating at positive margins with revenue double in 2021 compared to the previous year, and enrollment has increased from 70 countries to more than 90 this year.
Last June, the three-year-old startup announced a $10.8 million pre-Series A round. Rounding seems to be; however, Al Tarzi disagrees, saying the company’s Series A valuation is relatively higher than the last raise and citing a drop in funding size for the previous Series A “significantly overextended and extended.”
Investors participating in the Series A include Learn’s Emerging Markets Fund, which is backed by the International Finance Corporation (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 win will take it into new markets, expand the company’s academic offerings, including career programs, and improve its technology infrastructure. “We will continue to invest in products and geographic expansion and technology. The latter allows us to operate as efficiently as we do, so we won’t have to increase our monthly fees,” said the CEO. “Last year, we reduced customer retention costs by almost 50%, and this is directly due to the operational efficiency enabled by technology. So we will continue to invest in technology to increase efficiency and maintain student fees now.”