Does the OPM Industry Need a Professional Association?

5 areas where I’m confused.

February 18, 2018

Is there a professional association for the Online Program Management (OPM) industry?

If not - and I can’t find one - do they need one?

To do some level setting, an OPM provider is a for-profit company that partners with a non-profit college or university to start and run an online degree program.

The way that OPM’s work is that they usually contribute the up-front capital for starting a new online program, and then provide services to the partner school.  These services can range from online course design, technology platforms, marketing and student recruiting, course and student support, and ongoing program management.

Normally, the partner college or university retains the intellectual property for the courses and programs - with faculty deciding what is taught and the schools deciding who is admitted.

In exchange for providing money, people, and service to allow a school to start and run a new online program - the partners enter into a long-term revenue sharing contract.  That revenue share depends on the amount of dollars that the OPM provider invests, and can be as high as two-thirds to the OPM. Contracts tends to be long-term, I think 5 to 7 years, but sometimes longer.

Note:  If this OPM description is wrong in any particulars, please let us know.

Personally, I’m confused about the OPM world.

Here are my questions:

Question 1 - Who are the OPM players?

The OPM providers that I know about are:

Who am I missing?

Question 2 - How does one OPM provider differentiate from another?

Do various OPM players have different strengths and weaknesses? 

Do they have different business models?

Does one OPM have a niche with small private colleges, while another specializes in working with large public universities?

Question 3 - How can a university compare standard contract terms, length of contract, revenue share agreements, etc. etc. across OPM providers?

It seems as if every OPM contract with each school is private and proprietary.  Perhaps these contracts are more transparent at public institutions?  I don’t know.

Wouldn’t it be great to have some sort of culture of transparency in the OPM world?  And a clearinghouse where every school could compare both contracts and revenues from their peers, in deciding which OPM to work with?

Question 4 - How can I best communicate the potential of the OPM model with leadership at my institution?

My sense is that there is a strong concern at many schools of entering into long-term revenue sharing agreements.  The size of the revenue share that is allocated to the OPM partner also seems daunting.  As do the long-term contracts.

There is also lots of concern with outsourcing core competencies, such as instructional design and student support.

Finally, many schools don’t want to go to the sort of scale that many OPM providers seem to require.  They want to maintain quality control with small programs, and are concerned with OPM models that require courses to be taught by non-core faculty.

Given all these concerns, how can someone who is interested in the potential of an OPM partnership to catalyze new online programs communicate that potential to skeptical university leaders?  What are the talking points and examples that are effective?

Question 5 - Is anybody doing any legitimate research on OPM outcomes?

Where an OPM professional association would be particularly useful would be in pooling resources and data for research.

Colleges and universities are starved for high quality (reliable and valid) research around OPM outcomes.  We need to know how well these partnerships work for the schools, for the students, and for the faculty.  This research needs to be unbiased, and it needs to be funded.

Do you know of any effort for the various OPM providers to work together around communications, outreach, and research?

What would need to happen for the OPM players to come together into a professional association?

How could our higher ed community push things so that any OPM professional association truly benefited institutions, students, and faculty - and not only the for-profit companies?

What are you confused about when it comes to OPMs?



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