How OPMs Should Respond to the Warren Letter

The opportunity to invest in independent comparative analysis.

January 27, 2022

In a previous post, Eddie Maloney and I shared some ideas about how universities should respond to the Jan. 14 letter from Senators Warren, Brown and Smith. In this post, I want to share some of my thoughts on how OPMs should respond.

First, and of course, the companies should share with the senators detailed answers to all questions posed in the letter. But what else should the OPMs be doing?

The OPMs may not think so, but I see this recent letter from Senators Warren, Brown and Smith as an opportunity to change the conversation about nonprofit/for-profit partnerships.

The current OPM debate is being framed only through the lens of tuition costs, revenue sharing and student debt.

Lost in that framing is the reality that tuition prices for credentials—outside of a very few elite graduate programs—are set by the market.

A productive line of response from the OPMs would be to support the collection and analysis of data on finances/demographics/outcomes for both online programs done with a for-profit partner and those programs that universities run independently.

It may be that the OPM status of an online degree program places students at greater risk of carrying an unsupportable debt load. But it also may be that OPM status is not predictive of that bad outcome, as non-OPM online degree programs may carry similar risks to students.

The point is that without comparative data, there is no way to know.

If OPMs truly believe in the advantages of their services to both learners and universities, then they would welcome (and should support) the analysis of comparative data.

The key here is that the research must be independent.

The OPM conversation will not move forward unless all parties trust the analysis.

OPMs should respond to the Warren letter by committing to sponsor the sort of independent comparative research that will be necessary to move this debate forward.


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