Interesting Reads This Week

Twain on OPMs, a matter of degrees plus, and a whale of a story

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During COVID someone commented to me that life during the pandemic was like raising children: the days are long, but the years are short. The pandemic has receded, but the days and weeks still seem very, very long to me.

It has been a heck of a week. At least it has been for me. My colleagues were off at the WCET Conference in New Orleans snarfing Moroccan spiced lamb and quaffing sazeracs, so it probably seemed shorter and tastier for them.

But enough of jealousy, what did I read this week?

Reports of the death of the OPM are a tad exaggerated

A couple of weeks ago (but what seems like a lifetime) there was an article in Inside Higher Ed titled OPMs on ‘Life Support’ in Changing Online Marketplace.” I think half of that headline is correct, the market for online learning is changing, and fast. The beginning of the headline seems a bit overwrought, apparently the fault of an analyst named Phil Hill (as Donald Trump might say, I really don’t know him at all, though I thought he brought me some Moroccan spiced lamb once).

Certainly, the OPM industry is facing some serious headwinds. But going through my inbox it turns out that business is continuing apace. Several OPMs have announced new deals in the last few months and several of them are hiring, including for middle and senior roles. To mention but a few, AllCampus has signed a number of new institutions and degrees including with Tulane, Rutgers, and SMU while extended several other partnerships. Embattled 2U added a doctorate in education at Arcadia University and new AI bootcamps at a number of schools. Academic Partnerships signed a contract with Jacksonville State in Alabama, and it goes on.

The deals point to the kinds of enrollment & revenue pain that many universities & colleges are experiencing. They also point to the fact that there is and will continue to be a role for OPM and similar types of vendors. But what is striking about these deals is that many of them seem like the old sort of deals, not well suited to the changing online market. Many of the deals are for graduate programs, many of them masters in the areas that we saw so much of during the heyday of OPM-fueled online growth: MBA’s, masters in analytics and data science, etc. If I am wrong in my assessment here and any OPMs would like to tell me more about what they are doing in this space, I am all ears.

My corgi Huw, not a young Prince Charles

I think more OPM partnership types will need to change. Not only because of regulation, but because of the needs of universities, the demands of the markets, and changing students. We see a hint of this in the new projects announced between 2U, Jobs for the Future, and Drake State Technical College in Huntsville, AL. The partnership provides adult learners with access to no cost online bootcamps in cybersecurity and data analytics. A similar program is underway in Tulsa, OK and is described in more detail by Paul Fain in his excellent newsletter.

In the future we will see more of these creative kinds of solutions to providing online opportunities and focused much more on the credential space rather than on masters and doctoral degrees.  The OPMs that will flourish will take some new forms and work with universities on different forms of online learning.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, you are in luck. I, the afore-maligned Phil Hill, and Neil Mosley (if you don’t read his UK-based newsletter, you should) have started a podcast (we all have very different accents, so that last word is pronounced in very different ways). The first topic under discussion is the changing OPM market. We will be releasing the podcast soon, so keep an eye out.

From the department of “you can knock me over with a feather”

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