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The Limits of Our Social Media OPM Conversation

The need for independent, data driven, research of the online program management ecosystem.

August 26, 2018
 
 

What will be the role of for-profit companies as higher education transitions from a physical to a digital industry?

How might colleges and universities accelerate the shift from offering master’s programs on campus, to offering master’s programs that are low-residency and fully online?

Is the growth of the OPM industry driving up the cost of higher education, as Noodle’s John Katzman suggests, by igniting an advertising / marketing / recruitment spending arms race.   

Or do OPMs serve, 2U's Chip Paucek argues, as a valuable partner and enabler for institutions - providing opportunities for colleges and universities to create high quality online programs that meet student needs while also providing much needed revenues?  

I’ve been trying to puzzle all this out. There really does not seem like there is much going on in the way of independent and data-driven analysis of the growth of OPM sector. Everyone in the discussion seems to have an a priori stake in the outcome.

Worryingly, it seems as much of our conversation about the strengths and weakness of the OPM model is playing out on social media  Social media - blogs, twitter, YouTube videos, etc. - has the advantage of low barriers to entry.  All of us can participate.  You can make a comment, post a tweet, write a blog post.  Ideas can be shared across our networks with a click.

The challenge is that our social media conversation is shallow, fact impoverished, and performative. Those with the loudest voices, or the most followers, are at risk of dominating the conversation.

We need to create a space for independent, sober, and objective analysis of the OPM industry - and its impact on institutions, students, and professors.  The OPM conversation needs to move out of blogs and out of twitter, an in to a space that adheres to the norms of hypothesis testing through data.  The question about should colleges and universities work with an OPM partner, and if so what sort of partnerships should they build, should be recast as an empirical question. One appropriate for academic study.

This does not mean that the social media conversation around OPMs should go away. That is an accessible and vibrant discussion. It just needs to be complemented by a more academic discussion of the OPM industry.

Where this academic OPM analysis might occur is not yet clear.  There is a great deal of work to be done in just getting the data from the schools and the companies that would be necessary for this sort of ongoing analysis and research.  It will take considerable time to fully understand the postsecondary and corporate ecosystems in which the OPM industry operates.  There are many OPM companies, and many more schools that are launching online programs with and without partners.  A researcher in this space will need to be able to move fluently across all these domains.

Where such an organization for the analysis of OPMs might be based is another good question.  My bias is to place such a center at a college or university.  To have professors do this research.  To integrate the research on OPMs and the changing postsecondary landscape with teaching.

Alternatively, this sort of institute could be independent.  It could be based in a professional association, a think tank, or a foundation.  Wherever something like this lives, I think it would need to be nonprofit.

Would the OPM companies ever contribute both money and anonymized data to an independent organization?  And if something like this were to be set-up, would an organization funded by OPMs - even if autonomous and independent - have credibility within higher education?

Can you point us to any independent analysis of the OPM ecosystem, and its role in the changing structure of postsecondary education?

Where do you get your information and ideas about OPMs?

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