How Colleges Can Ease the Transition Away from OPMs

How Colleges Can Ease the Transition Away from OPMs

If you’ve been following the latest in higher education news, you’ve likely seen article after article after article suggesting that OPMs (Online Program Managers) are in decline. Once lauded as an excellent solution for undercapitalized initiatives in the online learning space, OPMs—which bundle services as part of a comprehensive revenue-sharing program—are no longer producing the desired outcomes. Governance concerns and major acquisitions only add to the chaotic landscape.

The result? Many schools are considering severing these partnerships.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons OPMs are falling out of favor and the options schools have going forward.

Why Are OPMs in Decline? 

“Our OPM was just bought by another company.” 

“Our OPM just experienced massive layoffs.” 

“My point of contact at our OPM no longer works there.” 

“We don’t need our OPM anymore because we can do what they’ve been doing in-house.”

This is a sampling of what we’ve been hearing from colleges lately regarding OPMs. But why exactly are OPMs in decline?

1. Market saturation 

In the early 2000s and 2010s, OPMs filled a critical gap for schools: funding and managing the development of online programs (often adult master’s programs) and enrolling students into these programs. OPMs and schools shared the revenue generated by the programs, which proved to be an equitable arrangement for some time. 

However, the market for online master’s programs is finite. There are only so many degrees, so many schools, and so many people interested in pursuing a master’s. The market can no longer sustain the number of OPMs, and the number of degree programs they’ve created, that have cropped up over the years.

The impact of market saturation presents itself in a couple of key ways. First, schools are less likely to achieve desired and “guaranteed” returns on their investment with OPMs. Second, OPMs are more in flux as organizations, with greater numbers of closures and acquisitions in the last few years.

2. Government scrutiny 

The Biden Administration and the US Department of Education have demonstrated concern about the relationship between higher education institutions and OPMs. 

ICEF Monitor reports, “There is a formal review underway of the legislation allowing colleges to pay OPMs commission based on the amount of tuition revenue they help to generate. Fueling the review is a worry that OPMs’ marketing to students is diluting the perceived value of higher education and encouraging students [to] enroll in ‘low-value’ programs instead of degrees.”

3. Increased risk 

Colleges and universities are, for the most part, highly risk-averse. So, it’s no surprise that amid the closures, acquisitions, and government scrutiny plaguing OPMs, schools are unwilling to take on the risk associated with continuing these partnerships. 

4. Stronger in-house capabilities 

Many schools now possess the resources and capabilities to take over online program management in-house. They have the instructional design skills to build online courses and programs. They have faculty with experience teaching online programs (or a willingness to learn). They have robust CRM and marketing automation systems. 

In short, colleges and universities have closed the gap that OPMs once filled, rendering these costly and increasingly risky partnerships unnecessary.

The Value of Unbundled Services 

At first glance, it appears schools have two options for managing online programs: partnering with an OPM or absorbing all the responsibilities in-house. But it’s not necessarily that black and white. 

There is a third option that serves as a middle ground and can help schools ease the transition away from OPMs: collaborating with a marketing agency or enrollment services partner like MindMax that provides a menu of fee-based, unbundled services.  

At MindMax, we don’t build online programs. Instead, we focus on providing services in areas where schools may still lack internal resources and expertise, such as digital marketing and lead nurturing. 

Higher education marketing has always been challenging, and it’s only getting harder as factors like the upcoming presidential election and the surge of AI-generated content make it more difficult to capture people’s attention. But capturing a prospective student’s attention is only the first hurdle. Next comes holding that person’s attention through a decision-making process that can span years. 

This is where MindMax’s higher education marketing and enrollment expertise comes into play. While your school handles the building of online programs, we can step in to offer fee-based, unbundled marketing and enrollment services with significantly more flexibility and less risk than an OPM. 

If you’re in the process of separating from an OPM and are interested in discussing unbundled services, let’s talk. Reach out to us to set up a meeting.