How do OPMs work? Online program management explained

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Elise Hodge

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Online Program Management Explained

The Zoom classroom became the new normal back in 2020 when institutions had to make a quick transition to remote learning in the wake of COVID-19. These uncertain times have brought many challenges but also opportunities to learn, grow and adapt. As universities look toward the future, they now have the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work, reevaluate their program delivery, and improve the student experience through online learning.

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With universities wanting to scale their online programs, this has changed the way colleges bring online education to the market. Online Program Managers (OPMs) have become more relevant than ever before, providing a partnership opportunity for colleges and universities across the globe wanting to bring their courses to a wider market.

What is an OPM?

Online program management (OPM) providers work with colleges and universities to take their academic programs online. They can offer a suite of services, generally within packages or on a fee-for-service basis. An OPM partnership can provide an institution with services like student recruitment and enrollment, student and graduate retention, market research, course design and technology platforms, and student placement for training or employment purposes.

What are the benefits of partnering with an OPM?

Institutions may wish to partner with OPMs for a number of reasons. The first being the ability to bring their academic programs to a wider audience, including working adults who would not be able to attend in-person classes. OPMs can often provide institutions with the up-front capital necessary to get their programs online and grow them, absorbing the risk it would take a school to develop the program itself. The partnership provided by an OPM also provides an opportunity for the institution to benefit from an increase in manpower, reducing the burden on academic staff.

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Who are the main players?

More than 30 vendors currently compete in the OPM space, providing a range of services, including some specialist offerings. The four industry leaders include Wiley Education Services, Pearson, 2U and Academic Partnerships, all of which currently command the greatest share of the OPM market.

Three key considerations when choosing an OPM partner

As the OPM space has evolved over the last few years, so has institutions’ expectations of providers. There are three key areas that should be taken into consideration when choosing an OPM.

The first is technology systems and data integration. In an effort to increase overall retention rates as well as graduation rates, institutions select OPM providers based on their ability to integrate with their Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Student Information System (SIS), data systems, and platforms. In a study by Wiley, 86 percent of institutions ranked systems integration as the most important factor, with 77 percent expecting OPMs to use data analytics to inform their strategy.

The second factor institutions should take into consideration is how flexible an OPM is. The types of OPM contract models typically include:

- Traditional revenue sharing: where an OPM provider supplies capital upfront and splits revenue with the institution

- Fee-for-service, where the institution contracts the OPM to perform a selected service without revenue sharing options;

- Co-investment: where an OPM and the institution share the responsibility of both the upfront capital and the revenue.

Traditionally, OPMs have offered a revenue-share contract model, though due to current trends show that institutions are preferring a more flexible contract with “a la carte” like services, fee for service models are becoming more common.

The third factor institutions should consider is whether the OPM is committed to continually improving course quality, as well as engagement, and student support. When choosing the right OPM for your institution, it is important to evaluate whether the provider offers full student lifecycle support, a 24/7 help desk, faculty training and support, outcomes-focused course design and development, as well as attention to mission, culture, and tradition.

If 2020 has shown the education sector anything, it is that online program delivery is more important now than it ever has been before. An OPM partnership can increase the ease of getting your program online and fast track its growth to the right students. The higher education space will no doubt continue to evolve and change as we head into 2021. However, we can be certain that the online program world will not be going anywhere soon!

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