Harvard, Axim Partner with UNCF to Build Digital Platform for Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Harvard, Axim Collaborative, and the United Negro College Fund will collaborate to support the development of HBCU Virtual, or HBCUv, a new platform to expand digital learning and equitable access to education for historically Black colleges and universities.

“The partnership with Harvard will focus on developing a robust instructional design framework, establishing a repository of culturally responsive course resources, and leveraging existing knowledge, expertise and digital learning assets that exist at Harvard and MIT,” the July 19 announcement reads.

The statement was signed by Harvard Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Bharat N. Anand ’88; Julian Thompson, director of strategy at UNCF; and Stephanie R. Khurana, Axim’s chief executive officer.

UNCF is the nation’s largest minority education organization, reaching more than 60,000 students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities. The fund partners with nine initial HBCUs: Benedict College, Clark Atlanta University, Johnson C. Smith University, Lane College, Claflin University, Dillard University, Talladega College, Shaw University, and Jarvis Christian University.


Axim Collaborative, previously the Center for Reimagining Learning, is a nonprofit created by Harvard and MIT with the proceeds from the 2021 sale of their joint online course platform edX.

According to Khurana, the partnership was formalized in June. Axim, UNCF, and Harvard have had conversations over the past year about a shared interest in innovative learning platforms.

“From the first meeting it became clear that the HBCUv vision was ambitious and incisive in its understanding of what makes learning transformational — that is, the role of both content and community in driving learning outcomes,” Anand wrote in an emailed statement.

Anand continued that the partnership’s collaborative benefits are “bi-directional.”

“For example, how to create vibrant digital communities in the service of learning is a shared objective that each partner has a deep interest in. We each expect to learn from the other,” Anand added.

Ed Smith-Lewis, vice president of strategic partnerships and institutional programs at UNCF, said the initial idea for the platform originated in late 2019.

The HBCUv platform will include a shared learning management system, allowing students to “take courses across institutional boundaries,” according to Smith-Lewis.

“In addition to signing into an LMS to take courses, you could also sign into that same system to connect with friends, build relationships, get support programming, access resources,” he said.

Anand said in the press release that by “combining innovative teaching and learning practices and technologies, inclusive approaches, and a commitment to excellence,” the aim is to support UNCF and the partner HBCUs in “empowering students and faculty from historically Black colleges and universities to reshape the future of learning in a digital age.”

The partnership’s announcement comes five months after outgoing Prairie View A&M University President Ruth J. Simmons was named senior adviser to the president of Harvard on engagement with HBCUs. Simmons assumed her new role on June 1.

In a press release earlier this year, Simmons praised then-University President Lawrence S. Bacow for his effort to establish relationships with HBCUs.

The new initiative will move forward alongside the larger effort overseen by Vice Provost of Special Projects Sara N. Bleich following the University’s publication of its landmark Legacy of Slavery report last year. The report’s third recommendation called on Harvard to form “enduring partnerships with Black colleges and universities.”

Correction: August 15, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the United Negro College Fund reaches more than 60,000 Black students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities. In fact, the fund reaches more than 60,000 total students at those institutions.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mnamponsah.