Campus & Community

Broadening access and deepening impact, starting with listening

Stephanie Khurana says that Axim Collaborative will focus on underrepresented students

6 min read
Stephanie Khurana.

Stephanie Khurana, chief executive officer of Axim Collaborative, identifies the priorities.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

A little less than a month into her tenure as chief executive officer of Axim Collaborative, Stephanie Khurana has a full plate of priorities. The nonprofit, co-founded by Harvard and MIT following the 2021 sale of edX, has its sights set on ensuring learners have access to and succeed in high quality education programs, with a focus on leveraging partnerships to drive outcomes for students around the globe.

At the helm, Khurana, a social entrepreneur and the former managing director of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, has no doubt that they can make it happen. She took time to speak to the Gazette about Axim’s priorities and what the future looks like. The interview was edited for clarity and length.


Stephanie Khurana

GAZETTE: Can you share more about Axim Collaborative’s vision and what you are trying to achieve?

KHURANA: We want to broaden access to education and deepen the impact for the millions of learners who have faced barriers in realizing their education and career aspirations. As we know, education can be a great equalizer. But at the same time the lack of a quality education can exacerbate the inequities that we see in the world.

This is a moment in time when shifting demographics among learners, evolving technology including AI, and what we’ve learned from the pandemic, provides opportunities to use our ingenuity to engage learners and their institutions in new ways.

Axim Collaborative is stewarding edX’s original mission to provide greater access to quality learning, and now with an intent to open doors wider to reach students who have yet to complete a degree and find a pathway to meaningful employment. It’s why we chose “Axim” as our name — a hybrid of the two ideas of access and impact.

We are focused on partnering with institutions and organizations who serve students who have been systemically and historically underserved by our higher education systems. We want to catalyze new digital and education practices that engage students in their course of study, enable them to persist through their programs, and excel in their careers. We hope to enable strong outcomes for students and the institutions who serve them, as well as to share learnings, research, and insights in ways that expand the field.

“We’re focused on low-income students, first-generation college students, and underrepresented minorities. It’s no secret that those groups have been underserved by the education system as it stands today … we need to do more.”

GAZETTE: When you are thinking about which learners Axim should target, where is the most need?

KHURANA:  We’re focused on students who are low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented in the classroom. It’s no secret that those groups have been underserved by the education system as it stands today. And while the sector as a whole has made significant strides, we need to do more. These learners are served by community colleges and public four-year institutions with deep ties to their communities and more affordable tuition. They are resilient, talented, and determined but face barriers in pursuing their educational goals and are often balancing their education with work and other responsibilities.

We want to meet those learners where they are, and bring to them innovations and technologies that can catalyze the paths to careers that they aspire to. The same tools can bring academic and cohort support, foster a sense of community and belonging, and enable student persistence through completion, addressing a key challenge for students in a hybrid environment.

To do that, bringing together funding, practice, research, and convening capabilities, and collaborating with partners from industry, academia, and technology, is going to be critical. Such collaborative efforts will help to identify and implement the best ideas and practices that specifically address the unique needs of these learners and their institutions, which are also often resource-constrained.

GAZETTE: What do the next few months look like for Axim, and what are you most excited about?

KHURANA: First of all, we have an incredible team and a very committed board who are engaged by Axim’s mission. We have bold aspirations, but we also want to pursue them with an understanding how to best approach the work, and how to best partner with others.

We’re determined to start by listening. There are many people in this space who are doing incredible work already, and we want to hear from them to determine how to collaborate and where the greatest areas of opportunity and impact lie.

I like to say, “go slow to go fast.” Our collaborations must be grounded in the needs of the students and the ways we might support the institutions that serve them. The opportunity to shape and to recreate how we teach and learn and innovate across a broad range of student needs is a unique one, and something that we must do with partners. Our work will be to learn what those opportunities are, build partnerships to bring expertise from research, technology, and learning together, all in support of strong student outcomes.

I’m excited about the enormous possibilities ahead that we have yet to create. We are eager to work alongside others who are also deeply committed to educational equity and to make a meaningful difference in the lives of students, families, and our society more broadly in the years to come.

That includes partners that worked with Harvard and MIT on the edX project, as well. Many of those partner institutions are still working with edX and we value those relationships at Axim Collaborative. However, our work is very different from edX’s work to deliver online courses, so we’ve been engaging legacy partners to explore ways that they might support Axim’s mission. We also welcome new partners.

“There are many people in this space who are doing incredible work already, and we want to hear from them to determine how to collaborate and where the greatest areas of opportunity and impact lie.”

GAZETTE: Will Axim Collaborative still manage the Open edX platform? Can you share more about Axim’s role with Open edX?

KHURANA: We steward the Open edX platform, which is a technology platform that enables open online learning. There are many organizations around the globe that have used the open source Open edX platform. Our hope is that we can use that to reach more learners and help them realize their educational goals. That’s different from edX, which has the online course offerings and provides that direct course availability, which is done through 2U.