Fathom.com, Columbia University's much ballyhooed online consortium offering continuing education courses, will shut down April 1. A spokesperson for Columbia said the university will reorganize all its online content under a new entity called Digital Knowledge Ventures. DKV will also offer a combination of free content, licensed content and courses to the general public.

While Fathom.com offered courses and content from a consortium of high-profile institutions, among them Cambridge University Press, the London School of Economics and the New York Public Library, Columbia University was the driving force behind the for-profit venture. Columbia reportedly invested more than $25 million in Fathom.com, which was launched in April 2000 with much fanfare. The site offered more than 2,000 credit and noncredit courses. Conceived as an online educational boutique, the site was expected to attract a highly educated market of consumers that never quite materialized, although Columbia claims the site enrolled about 65,000 students from around the world.

Ann Kirschner, president and CEO of Fathom.com, will continue to work for Columbia University for the next few months before leaving. Robert Kasdin, senior executive v-p of Columbia, said the university would use the experience from the failed venture to continue to offer content online through the revamped DKV, including the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia and the Library Digital Program. "The university hopes to continue to work with the consortium partners to pursue new opportunities," he said.

Fathom.com is the second major online continuing education venture sponsored by a university to fail. In late 2001, NYU Online closed down its operations (News, Dec. 10, 2001)