Q. Our school has maintained a long-term engagement with an external Online Program Management (OPM) partner. Prior to the recent impact of COVID-19, we were assessing whether to renew this contract, or use our internal services and business units to manage our online programs. Any advice on OPM renewals versus internal management during the current crisis?

The decision to renew an outsourced OPM contract or revert to in-house capabilities should be evaluated from a student-first position. As was the case before COVID-19, schools should carefully and precisely take the pulse of what fully online students will need. Current COVID-19 social distancing and uncertainty about the future may require more flexible OPM business models, re-imagined online experiences, and broader support services. But the first task for schools deciding to renew an OPM or not, is to assess the fears, expectations, and demands of their prospective online students.

While economic downturns in the past have led to enrollment bumps in graduate and professional programs, the speed and extent of this pandemic have created greater uncertainty about future enrollment. This delicate calculus could be hard for many schools to solve. While the recent shift to remote learning has been both swift and unprecedented, it cannot be confused with the challenges inherent in the management of a fully online academic program.

Institutions now have an opportunity to establish strategic priorities by evaluating the impact either an outsourced or in-house online solution might have on student performance, engagement, and outcomes. These questions should form the nucleus of the dialogue among schools, their OPMs, and their internal online service units.

Howard Lurie is the Eduventures Principal Analyst for Online and Continuing Education at ACT | NRCCUA. He designs and directs research studies investigating the adult learner market, competency-based education, alternative credentials, and Online Program Management (OPM) services. He provides advisory services to a broad range of Eduventures clients, including higher education institutions and technology companies. He co-authored Eduventures’ report Deconstructing CBE: An Assessment of Institutional Activity, Goals and Challenges in Higher Ed.

Previously, Howard served as Managing Director for Academic Partnerships at Acrobatiq, where he led efforts to secure new partnerships, grants, and business opportunities. Howard has also served as a Vice President for External Affairs at edX, and was a founder and Managing Director of PBS LearningMedia. Howard was trained as an historian and taught at both secondary and postsecondary schools. Howard holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Teachers’ College, Columbia University.