- A survey of chief online learning officers indicates that online program management companies, or OPMs, aren’t meeting their expectations for marketing and recruitment, even though these are the services the college officials said they needed most.
- That’s according to a new report from the University of Louisville and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, or UPCEA. The report also found the top reason chief online learning officers work with OPMs is to respond to increased competition in the online education marketplace.
- Another key factor is to secure capital needed to launch online programs. The report focuses on revenue-share contracts with OPMs, in which a company provides the initial investment into programs in exchange for a share of their tuition revenue.
OPMs have exploded over the last decade, and more than 500 colleges have contracts with these companies to help launch and grow their online programs. Many OPMs work with colleges on a revenue-share basis, a model that has been criticized for potentially spurring companies to aggressively recruit students in order to receive higher compensation.
Even chief online learning officers who have no intention of working with these companies need to stay up to date with developments in the OPM sector, as changes in leadership, enrollment or institutional strategy could prompt colleges to contract with these companies, according to the report. Its findings are based on a survey of 92 chief online learning officers who are also UPCEA members and one-on-one interviews conducted with about one-third of that group.
Chief online learning officers indicated they need OPMs primarily for marketing and recruiting efforts — and yet these officials indicated they were least satisfied with these same services.
One-on-one interviews with the chief online learning officers help explain why this might be the case. Some of the officers said OPMs overestimated the number of leads they would generate for online offerings, while others said the prospective students the companies surfaced may not actually be qualified for their institutions’ programs.
Still, many of these college officials said their colleges have limited marketing budgets or experience, making partnering with OPMs an attractive option.
“Marketing and recruitment is not something that we feel we have historically had a great strength on,” one chief online learning officer said. “And we’ve traditionally invested very little in it and have very little expertise in those areas.”
For the 56 survey respondents who have never contracted with an OPM at their current institution, only 20% said they would partner with one in the future. Over one-third of officials, 38%, said they wouldn’t work with an OPM, and 42% said they weren’t sure.
Many chief online learning officers seem to view OPMs as a temporary way to build their capacity for online offerings.
“Rather than seeing the OPM engagement as a permanent partner for their online learning programs, they treated the OPM as a stopgap that would allow them to move towards independently operating,” the report said.
Chief online learning officers stressed college officials should ensure contract terms fit the needs of their institutions. For instance, some said they wanted accountability metrics with regular review periods. Although OPMs with revenue-share agreements are rewarded based on how many students enroll, college officials wanted to include penalties for companies that underperform.
They also warned about clauses that would give companies exclusive rights to provide certain programs at institutions or be their exclusive OPM providers. That can create issues for decentralized colleges, the report noted. If one department signed a contract, for instance, all other units may be subject to it.