In a recent study, Eduventures asked leaders at colleges and universities across the country about their experiences working with online program management (OPM) providers, companies that partner with colleges to offer an end-to-end bundle of services to support their online program strategies and business models. Not surprisingly, three-quarters of current customers and another 94% of prospective buyers cited “increasing enrollments” as a key driver for developing a relationship with these companies.

When we asked current customers to rate their satisfaction with the outcomes of their current OPM partnership, however, an interesting trend emerged. Despite citing increased enrollments as their top goal for their OPM relationship, only 50% of current OPM customers said they were satisfied with this as an outcome. In fact, 22% of OPM customers said they were dissatisfied with their enrollment numbers. Course quality, student satisfaction, and student support—all secondary drivers to increasing enrollments—had the strongest satisfaction ratings

Note: n=41; excludes respondents who did not know or were unsure.

These findings demonstrate a clear gap between desired and actual OPM performance. This expectations gap indicates that higher education leaders must reassess how they evaluate their OPM partnerships at the outset. Colleges are looking to OPM providers to increase enrollments when perhaps they should instead ask them to develop high-quality online courses with high student satisfaction rates.

 

Three Steps to Launch an Effective OPM Partnership

OPM relationships have been renegotiated and others terminated due to challenges meeting enrollment goals. Many of these challenges begin with unrealistic expectations about enrollment targets, choosing the wrong programs to launch, or even choosing the wrong OPM provider as a partner. As you enter into a partnership with an OPM provider or reevaluate an existing one, what steps can you take to ensure that your goals and outcomes are properly aligned? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Set realistic enrollment targets with your OPM provider. Too often, both the college and the OPM provider make unrealistic assumptions about what is possible. The OPM wants new business and overpromises what it can deliver. The college needs the tuition revenue and accepts an inflated set of enrollment targets. It is in the best interest of both parties to determine a reasonable and achievable set of enrollment numbers.
  2. Choose the right programs to put online based on the market opportunity. Many colleges look for an OPM provider because they have programs in mind that they want to launch. While this can work under some circumstances, the initial focus of any OPM partnership should be to strategically determine which programs make sense from a market perspective, as well as which programs align with the OPM provider’s marketing expertise. Some programs will be more likely to generate the enrollments that will be acceptable to your college.
  3. Ask for references of similar programs launched by your OPM provider. During the evaluation phase, ask prospective OPM providers to show you enrollment numbers and case studies of similar programs that they have launched. This will give you the confidence that when you develop your online program, it will meet your enrollment goals. Some OPM providers have a track record of success developing specific types of programs or marketing to specific types of students.

Are you considering partnering with an OPM provider? Eduventures has published a series of reports on the OPM market that provides higher education leaders with a roadmap to understand:

  • The nature of the OPM partnership.
  • Best practices for partnering.
  • How to shortlist partners during vendor selection.