Simmons University, in Massachusetts, told students earlier this year it would create online versions of hundreds of undergraduate courses for the fall term. School officials billed the move as a way to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic while growing its online footprint.

But it didn't take on the task alone. To aid the transition, the private university tapped its longtime partner, 2U. The company has helped Simmons develop and manage six online graduate programs, which collectively enroll nearly 3,000 learners — accounting for roughly half its students.

"I'm trying to imagine us doing that without 2U's help," said Russell Pinizzotto, Simmons' interim provost. "I don't think we would have been able to do that."

Companies like 2U, called online program managers, typically front the capital needed to get a virtual academic program off the ground. In exchange, they get a share of its tuition revenue, usually between 40% and 60%. The expanded partnership brings that same model to Simmons' online undergraduate courses, though officials declined to share the revenue split.

The deal will also set up several online undergraduate degrees at Simmons targeting adult learners who haven't finished college, and they will be slimmer and priced lower than the campus-based versions. Pinizzotto said the school will debut five programs in May to start, including in computer science and social work.

Then-President Helen Drinan said in Simmons' announcement that the new work with 2U would help the university "emerge from the pandemic stronger." And it highlights a two-pronged trend industry observers say the pandemic-induced move to remote education is intensifying: More colleges are creating online programs to expand their reach, and they're increasingly relying on third-party providers for help.

Read the full article about how colleges are shifting online by Natalie Schwartz at Education Dive.