What Jim Shelton Learned at 2U—And Why He’s Leaving

What Jim Shelton Learned at 2U—And Why He’s Leaving


Editor’s Note: Jim Shelton said today that he’s leaving 2U to lead work in education at the charitable organization set up by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. He agreed to share this private letter with EdSurge explaining his decision.

Just know…I was right.


This is without a doubt one of the most difficult notes I’ve ever had to send. Just moments ago, it was announced that I am becoming the first head of the education efforts at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative—leading Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s efforts to improve education through philanthropy, impact investments and policy change that will help every student reach their potential.

While this opportunity for global impact is once in a lifetime, this was still a difficult decision for me. The primary reason it was difficult is the personal loyalty I feel to Chip and so many of you who have welcomed me with open arms and given me tremendous opportunity and support. But, this decision was also difficult because…well, I was right—right about why I chose 2U and about all of you.

Last year, I wrote a letter to friends and colleagues explaining my decision to join 2U. In it, I laid out four critical questions that drove my choice:

  • Is it important? With no hyperbole, I am more convinced than ever that 2U is transforming higher education. Faced with increasing demand, radical transparency, increasing accountability, new technologies and business models, and rapidly shifting competitive landscapes, institutions of higher education are faced with a mandate to innovate—to change and get better and do so at a pace and scale that is unprecedented. For most institutions, making change of this scope and complexity simply is not feasible on their own. They need help but not just any help. 2U is helping universities become better digital versions of themselves and doing so with producing great student outcomes at the core of its mission and model. That’s more than important. It’s transformative. And now, dozens of universities and many competitors are trying to learn to do what 2U does. This is an opportunity not a threat; and it will accelerate the transformation.

  • Is it a good business opportunity? As evidenced by the last few months, 2U is one of the best businesses in the education sector. “When students win, universities win. When universities win, 2U wins.” Recently, the last of our original university partners renewed with 2U for another 12 years. Many of our partners are signing up for their second, third and even fourth programs. 2U’s partners are exceptional and our core capabilities are distinct and getting better by the day. You do exceptional work and deliver great outcomes and economics for students and universities in a way that no one else is currently able to replicate. These are just the facts and even the skeptics are beginning to recognize them. Keep doing what you’re doing; and 2U will keep winning.
  • Is it a great organization with people whom you want to spend lots of hours? Two words: 2U Love. It’s real. It’s rare. It’s set a new standard for me. Hold on to it.
  • Is it aligned with how you want to live your life? Successfully pursuing a mission that matters with people you like and respect is how I want to spend the rest of my life and 2U provided that. But, 2U also gave me two gifts that are invaluable—my freedom and my family. I have no words to express how grateful I am for the ways 2U has enabled me to be my best self and reconnect with my family.

Our time together has been too short; but, I can say with complete sincerity, this is not goodbye. I will continue as an advisor to Chip and any of you who care to reach out. Thanks again for this literally life changing experience. See you soon.

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