Recent conferences and articles have some folks questioning the value of online program management (OPM) partnerships. Some speak about the extremes and do not focus on the 85 percent of situations where these partnerships work really well. So is OPM a fad of the past or fashion for tomorrow? Well … the answer is that part of the original OPM model is going away, but like good fashion, the fundamentals remain true.
What are passing fads?
The “all or nothing” fad. While I believe that bundling services is the best way to have a streamlined experience, many schools have built fantastic services internally and do not need to outsource everything (i.e., course development, LMS, curriculum design, etc.).
Key thought: If you are going to mix and match services, then data integration and being honest about your true capabilities are important.
The “faculty are NOT important” fad. The best programs have the best faculty engagement. This is not only with teaching and development but also with student follow-up and engagement.
Key thought: Get your faculty involved from the beginning. And by “beginning,” I’m referring to the sales process. Please do not wait to introduce faculty to your OPM initiative until after the partnership is established. And make sure faculty members are compensated for their work and time. Everyone will see results when their value is recognized.
The “online has to be a national audience” fad. While some schools can draw a national audience, many have to grow by focusing on their regional market. And no, this will not cannibalize your ground programs (I really hope we are past this.). Many great and growing online programs have drawn 80 percent of their students from their region.
Key thought: Be intentional about where your dollars are spent outside your regional market. Studies show that your student conversion will decrease the further the student lives from campus.
What is still in fashion?
Bundling marketing, recruitment and retention. These activities have to be viewed as a single experience for students. If you have multiple silos for each group, they will point fingers at each other. Whether that is an internal structure or working with an online enabler, this part of the student process needs to be under one roof.
Key thought: I believe if more schools consolidated these efforts, they would improve student retention and conversion.
Long-term agreements. I know this is a sensitive topic for many and sometimes is the reason why schools insource versus outsource. I believe you are making this long-term agreement either way. If you build, you normally have to invest millions of dollars to hire staff and invest in marketing and infrastructure, which by default means that you are in a long-term arrangement. If you buy, someone will make these investments for you but may take more of the upside if it succeeds and more of the downside if it fails. Either way, it takes four to five years for a program to mature.
Key thought: If you outsource, the ultimate decision is trust. Does the third party have your best interest in mind? Does the financial structure feel like both groups are incentivized to grow and be rewarded equally?
As in anything, industries and services evolve, new players enter and leave, and student demands change. This does not mean that partnering with an online enabler is a bad idea or going online cannot be successful in today’s environment. It just means we need to ignore the outlier stories, define your specific needs and risk tolerance, and make a decision to pursue the opportunity!