Are OPMs the future of online higher education?

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    Ready or not, higher education is evolving and transitioning online. Looking to get a piece of the $100 billion online education market, loads of universities and colleges are implementing online courses and programs into their curriculums as a means of boosting enrollment numbers and catering to adult students. 
    In order to make this massive leap online, universities sometimes contract online program management companies, also known as OPMs, to design online programs for their curriculums and boost online enrollment numbers by fronting investment and developing marketing campaigns.

    So, why the middle man? Do colleges and universities really need OPMs? The reality is that colleges and universities have a lot on their plate. OPMs end up being an attractive option because they handle the entire online transition process for colleges and universities. 

    From dealing with Customer Relationship Management and Learning Management Systems, to putting together online payments and admissions, colleges and universities gravitate towards OPMs that will save them from unnecessary stress and headaches.

    Interestingly enough, several college officials admitted that colleges and universities need to spend millions to launch an online program. Millions they don’t have. 

    So, are OPMs simply the only route for colleges and universities to take on online launches? Are schools forced to give up on quality and get on the crazy enrollment race to survive?

    Well, it depends on who you ask.

    When it comes to partnering with OPMs, universities must come to terms with the fact that OPMs are in the higher education business to make a considerable profit. Practically the only major players in the business of online integration, OPMs benefit from constant demand from colleges and universities to carry out their online platforms. As a result, OPMs hold a major stake in how exactly the needs of colleges and universities will be met.

    For OPMs, offering a “one size fits all” product is the name of the game. With thousands of colleges and universities out there, scaling would be extremely difficult if OPMs were tasked with offering personalized and program specific services for every institution. Knowing this, universities must find a happy medium between satisfying its students and faculty while not overwhelming the OPM with too many demands. 

    However, colleges and universities must be adamant about maintaining quality levels with OPMs when they aren’t satisfied with what the OPM provides. In order for the university to succeed in the long run, a strong reputation will be more valuable than brief high enrollment periods facilitated by OPMs. With a clear checks and balances system in place, both the university and OPM will benefit by having more transparency and accountability between the two parties. 

    The future of the relationship between OPMs and universities will assuredly change as the market changes. The OPM market is growing at a rapid 17% per year and is predicted to be valued at $7.7 billion market by 2025. 

    With such a lucrative online education market at hand, will universities be inclined to take on OPMs at the risk of students receiving a subpar educational experience? Will scaling enrollment be the main focus for universities and OPMs as opposed to providing top notch online programs? Those that are more skeptic suggest the latter, but there’s hope! 

    Luckily, some OPMs have shown that it is more than possible to be successful as a specialized OPM. Hopefully, for the integrity of online higher education, more OPMs follow suit.

    Sources: IBL NewsEducause Review