Blackboard co-founder and chief executive Michael Chasen plans to step down at the end of the year, the firm announced Monday, a year and a half after a private equity shop bought the company for $1.64 billion.

Jay Bhatt, the president and chief executive of Progress Software, is to take his place. Bhatt announced last week he would leave that firm in December after a year at the helm.

Chasen established Blackboard in 1997 and helped build the District-based firm from a small software company into an education technology behemoth that provides online learning tools for college students.

But the business has slowed in recent years. Blackboard has looked to enter new markets beyond higher education, but has encountered increasing competition from firms touting free, open-source software.

To that end, the company bought two competitiors in March that provide customer support and services to institutions that use open-source software. The purchase marked a shift in strategy for the firm away from simply selling its own products.

That shift has been aided in part by the firm going private last year, allowing executives to implement changes without the watchful eye of Wall Street. Providence Equity Partners paid $1.64 billion for the company in July of last year.

“We’re able to execute quicker and make more strategic moves than we were able to make as a public company,” Chasen said in an interview. “I would actually say we’re much better as a private company, or at least in a better position.”

After going private, Blackboard also merged with another Providence Equity Partners company called Edline, which provides education tools to primary and secondary schools.

Chasen said the decision to depart was reached amicably and that he was ready to pursue new opportunities after 15 years in a high-demand job. Will that next step be part of another start-up or another large firm? Either is an option, he said.

“I’ve been so focused with my head down here at Blackboard,” Chasen said. “I haven’t really focused yet on where I’d like to spend my time.”

This post has been updated to include comments from Chasen.

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