Posts Tagged ‘Universities’’


5 Things Universities Want From OPM Providers

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

What do universities want from online program management providers?

I have no idea.

Ask me what I want in a potential OPM partner, and I’ll talk your ear off.

But search for any research on how universities evaluate the decision to partner with a for-profit company to build, market, launch and run a new online degree program — and you will be mostly searching in vain.

The growing phenomenon of nonprofit/for-profit partnerships in postsecondary online learning needs research attention. We need to move OPM analysis out of the world of for-profit consulting companies and higher ed blogs. We need to investigate the changing way in which higher education programs are financed, including the OPM partnership model, involving scholars who are committed to independent and sustained research.

For now, lacking the research, I’ll share some of my own OPM opinions. You can let us know if your thinking, and the thinking at your institution, aligns with my own.

Here are five things that I want to see from OPM providers:

No. 1: Higher Ed People

Higher education is a business built on relationships. We are more like an ancient guild than a modern industry. The decision to make a life in higher education is not a rational one. Nobody in their right mind would choose a higher ed career on a pure cost/benefit calculation. Higher ed people are, above all else, mission driven. They are true believers in the potential of higher education to improve the lives of our students and to contribute to the making of a better world.

It would be great if more people who worked in online program management companies came from higher ed. If they built their relationships and networks while working for a university. It is not that we don’t trust people from outside academia. It is just that we don’t trust people from outside academia.

This might be our blind spot. Higher ed people don’t have a monopoly on being mission driven. Still, too few professionals in the OPM business seem to have previously been in higher education leadership roles. If partnerships with OPMs really do benefit our institutions, our students and our faculty, then more higher ed people should be wanting to work for OPMs.

No. 2: Flexible Unbundling

The only reason that a university would partner with a company to do an online program is that, for some reason, we can’t do it ourselves. What we can’t do ourselves varies from school to school, and surprisingly even within schools.

In some places we need the whole enchilada. We need the start-up capital. The instructional designers and project managers and video educators. We need the marketing and outreach to a population of online learners that we are not experienced reaching. We need the learning platforms. The student support.

Mostly, however, we don’t need all that. We need some but not all of those things. And what is needed might be different for different parts of the university. One division, school, program or major might be really good when it comes to instructional design. What they need most is marketing. Another area of the institution may not have the instructional designers, but it is well set up to support enrolled students.

A good OPM will be flexible in their partnerships. It will have options between revenue share and fee for service. It will unpack the partnership in a way that can work best for the institution.

No. 3: Capacity Building

Too often, OPM providers lead with money. How much revenue the new programs might deliver to the schools. Money is good, but it is only one part of the equation.

What we really care about is the long-term resilience of our institutions, and our ability to meet our strategic goals and to support our larger institutional missions. Online education is integral to how education is changing. Online programs provide opportunities to not only bring in new (much needed) dollars, but also to build new institutional capacities.

Online programs can serve as amazing opportunities for faculty development. Pair a professor with an instructional designer and watch the magic happen. What faculty learn in developing and teaching online courses can be translated into residential teaching and learning.

Outsourcing the core functions of an organization is always a bad idea. Outsourcing the teaching and learning function of a university is always a bad idea. OPMs need to learn to work with universities to use any partnerships around online programs to advance all learning.

No. 4: Transparency

One difficulty that schools have in even thinking about investigating a partnership with a company to start a new online program is our lack of information. We just know so little about how past OPM partnerships have played out. There is no good source of independent data — even if the data are anonymized.

There is no database that aggregates all OPM partnership arrangements across all the different schools and that would allow for a data-driven analysis of how well these arrangements work and which OPM might be a good fit.

Beyond a lack of outcome data, our ability to examine the contracts between peer schools and OPM providers is limited. We don’t really know how to negotiate a fair deal because we don’t understand how other schools have gone about setting up these partnerships.

The lack of data leaves us to rely on conversations, snippets of information and what the various OPM companies tell us. This inability to make data-driven decisions hurts everyone. It slows down the process. It makes schools that should consider an OPM partnership fail to even begin a project to look at options. A lack of data makes it less likely that partnerships that are begun will work well for both parties.

The only entities that can solve this lack of data are the OPM companies. I would love to see an OPM association that is built around helping higher education make data-driven decisions. This would require a commitment to transparency that I don’t think the OPM industry has prioritized.

No. 5: Diversity

This really should not have to be said in 2018, but judging from what I see in the OPM industry, I’m going to say it anyway. Higher ed people really do care about diversity, inclusion and opportunity. We believe that diverse perspectives are necessary for healthy teams and well-run organizations.

Our students are increasingly diverse across every demographic and social dimension. A potential OPM partner whose work force is not diverse is a demonstration of the values of that OPM company. We are unlikely to partner with anyone who does not share our values.

Again, these are the five things that I’d like most to see from a potential OPM partner.

What would you like to see?

How do we get the research started that would help us make some more definitive and representative statements about how schools and OPM providers might better work together?

Where do you get your OPM information?

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Do Elite Universities’ New Credentials Threaten Regional Colleges?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

The higher ed business model is actually pretty terrible.

Unfavorable demographic trends are causing enrollments to drop, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast. To entice students, schools must discount tuition by an average of 50 percent.

Productivity gains are hard to come by in a people-centric business that is more craft than platform. The cost disease is real, and it hurts.

The one higher ed bright spot has been the master’s degree. Particularly professional master’s degrees.

Should colleges and universities be worried that alternative credentials, including professional certificates, are set to crack the golden master’s degree egg?

Will platforms that offer low-cost alternative credentials, such as Coursera and edX, end up cannibalizing the master’s programs that so many schools depend on to balance the books? Are we going to see a movement away from demand from entry into master’s programs from regional institutions, and toward enrollment in nondegree online programs from institutions with the most recognizable brands?

First, some background:

In my lifetime (I was born in 1969), the number of master’s degrees conferred every year by U.S. institutions has gone from just over 200,000 to almost 800,000 today. The most popular master’s degrees are in business (24 percent), followed by education (19 percent), health professions (14 percent), engineering (7 percent) and public administration/social services (6 percent).

As Jon Marcus details in an article for the excellent Hechinger Report, master’s degrees have “become a cash cow for struggling colleges.” The amount of tuition discounting and financial aid that schools offer for master’s programs is much less than for undergraduates. Only about four in 10 master’s students receive any institutional financial aid, half that of undergraduates.

So master’s degrees matter a good deal for both tuition-dependent private institutions and state schools that are navigating public disinvestment.

We are also witnessing the acceleration of the transition from residential to online/low-residency master’s degrees. Graduate students are more than twice as likely to be enrolled in fully online programs (26 percent) as undergraduates (12 percent). While total enrollments have declined since 2012, from about 21 million to 20 million, graduate enrollments have remained more stable. (At least up until 2016.) The number of graduate students — mostly master’s students — whose program includes at least some online learning has increased from 865,000 to 1.1 million.

A few top 20 name-brand master’s programs will persist in being able to stay residential. The rest will move toward online. This is not a question of if, but when.

What is going to happen to all those business, education, health, engineering and public service master’s programs when a prospective student can get a professional certificate from an elite university? Are we headed toward a time when employers value the signal of an alternative credential from a top school as much as they do a master’s from a regional institution?

Does this mean that the master’s programs from schools without a fancy brand name are doomed? Will elite institutions be able to offer a compelling nondegree learning experience, as these schools begin to achieve mass customization through new AI-driven adaptive learning platforms?

Will the entry into the nondegree space of deep-pocketed OPM companies such as 2U, after their acquisition of GetSmarter last year for $ 103 million, accelerate the move of top institutions toward the nondegree space?

The answer is that if colleges and universities wish to keep relying on master’s programs to fund everything else (meaning undergraduates), then they will need to change how they think about graduate education.

The best road map that I’ve read recently about making that change comes from Chris Dellarocas, associate provost for digital learning and innovation at Boston University, in his piece on this site entitled “Higher Education in a World Where Students Never Graduate.”

Chris’s piece is so well written that it is worth extensively quoting:

There is one fundamental difference between news and education. Whereas news is based on content, education is fundamentally a complex set of relationships that encompass content/knowledge, mentoring and community. Whereas content can be commoditized, good relationships tend to be sticky and hard to replace.

A university’s strongest asset is the deep bond that we form with our students — through our faculty, guidance counselors, student activities organizations, corporate partners, career counseling consultants and alumni organizations. These relationships are built around course work, of course, but also include a substantial amount of mentoring and life coaching, as well as immersion in campus activities and peer networks. We do a reasonably good job of offering such a multifaceted life-changing experience to our undergraduate students.

At the graduate professional education level, however, many universities seem to forget that we are in the relationship business and behave as if we are simple content/knowledge providers. We charge students for course credits. We advertise our graduate programs essentially as if they were products. When our students graduate, we bid them farewell and subsequently contact them primarily for donations. This transactional way of thinking and acting leaves universities vulnerable to disruption.

Relationships will be the one thing that even the best adaptive learning platforms (personalization and scale), from the most well-known institutions, will not be able to scale. The future of a master’s degree will be more like a lifetime passport than an a one-time credential. Master’s graduates will need to have access to educational opportunities, mentoring and career coaching throughout their working lives.

Colleges and universities can no longer think of a master’s student as someone who comes for one or two years online or in person to get the degree. They will be more like offspring. Chris calls them foster children, which is what the Latin “alumnus” means. Who knew?

The challenge will be evolving our schools so that they are about relationships rather than content, and then communicating that new value proposition to potential students.

Relationships will be the most important idea, concept and challenge for higher education in the 21st century. Forget big data. Forget analytics. Forget AR and VR. Think about relationships.

Is your school or program moving toward a lifetime education model for your master’s students?

What does a shift to thinking about providing access to relevant educational, networking and community opportunities for graduates actually look like in practice?

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