How should you respond to your dean's/provost's concerns after last week's 2U/OPM news?
Say a dean or provost happen to read "A Reckoning for 2U, and OPMs?" and wants to know what this means for your college.
How should you contextualize the 2U story for your campus leadership?
I'd suggest the following four talking points:
Talking Point No. 1: What's going on in the stock market has little to nothing to do with evaluating if our school should partner with a company to develop new online programs.
Our job is to figure out what our goals are around online education and to do our best to align whatever we do in online learning with our institutional mission and our strategic priorities. The decision about how to develop and run online programs should be independent of the decision to work with any particular company.
We should be very clear about what we want to accomplish, in terms of impact and revenues and reach, before we ever talk to a potential partner. We should also be clear about the level of investment that we can take on, the amount of risk that we are willing to absorb.
The behaviors of investors should have no bearing on our thinking about the wisdom of engaging in a partnership with a company to create and run online programs.
Yes, it is vital to understand the financial situation of any potential partner -- as long-term viability is critical. If it ends up making sense to engage in some partnership, then digging into the finances of the company are part of the due diligence. But stock prices should not drive our thinking, investigations or decision making.
Talking Point No. 2: The underlying forces that are driving universities to prioritize online education are not altered by the fluctuations in the stock prices of individual companies. Over the long term, there will be strong growth in online education.
Online education is a strategy. OPMs are a tactic.
Every university needs to develop a strategic plan for online learning. This plan should guide the long-term investments that the institution makes in creating and running online programs. This plan should be aligned with the school's mission and values and build on its strengths as an institution.
For most schools -- although not all -- online education will play an increasingly important role in the institution's long-term strategy.
This is most apparent at the graduate level, as only a very few of the most highly ranked master's programs will remain residential only. Everyone else will move online.
The opportunity costs for students to stop working to receive a residential degree are too high. The flexibility afforded by an online program is too great. The quality that a well-crafted and fully resourced online program can deliver is too compelling.
The availability of OPM companies to partner with schools on online programs should not drive the decision to go online or determine which online programs the school should launch.
OPMs become one option, one possibility, in helping schools reaching their online education goals. For some schools, they will be a good option. Others will be smarter to go it alone. Others will pursue a mixed approach.
The growth in demand for online education presents both opportunities and challenges schools and to companies. We will all need to figure out the best way to work together -- or alone -- in reaching our goals. Over the long run, a robust online education ecosystem will benefit both students and universities. For schools and companies that can execute well in creating shared value for both students and universities through online education, the future will be bright.
Talking Point No. 3: The decision to work with, or to forgo, an OPM partner is not an either-or. Instead, it exists along a continuum of doing everything ourselves on one end, to outsourcing most everything on the other.
Nowadays, OPMs are not one thing. Every company in the online program management space will offer a range of services and a variety of partnership models. What every school needs to do is figure out its online learning strategy, and then be honest about its strengths and weaknesses in reaching those strategic goals.
Partnering with an OPM may be the best tactic to ensure that the online program receives the marketing that is necessary to reach the student enrollment/revenue goals that the school sets.
Or it may be that an institution does not yet possess the internal instructional design talent and project management bandwidth that online programs require. Or that 24-7 student support would be difficult to achieve. In those cases, working with an OPM might make sense.
At some schools, all the pieces may be in place to build and grow online programs (expertise, brand, demand). But there might not be the capital necessary to launch.
Every university needs to decide its priorities for online education. Are these priorities reducing risk or generating revenues? Is the goal to drive access or to build reputation? Is the desire to build internal capacities or quickly grow online programs?
Savvy universities will be able to align the services and partnership models available from OPM companies with their goals. The range of options from OPM companies puts a considerable burden on the schools to be clear about their objectives and to evaluate the menu of models on offer.
The critical cognitive shift is to move off the idea that OPM partnerships are a single thing (a revenue share for a fully bundled service), rather than a multitude of potential arrangements.
Talking Point No. 4: If our university decides to work with an OPM, then it is essential to recognize that this relationship will require the investment of internal resources.
The idea of "outsourcing" is the wrong way to think about school/OPM partnerships. There exists no circumstance where a school can outsource its online strategy. Every university will need to stay firmly on top of its online education operations. This is as true of schools that work with an OPM partner as those that do everything in-house.
Institutional resources devoted to online education should be commensurate with the strategic importance of these initiatives. If online learning is central to the strategy of a school, then the institution needs to commit attention and resources that are proportional to that focus.
The biggest mistake that a university can make is to think that working with an OPM will relieve the institution of the responsibility to manage online programs. A better way to think about OPMs is as a force multiplier. An OPM can extend a school's capabilities, but they are not a substitute for commitment or attention.
What would you add to these talking points?