OPM Market Landscape and Dynamics: Fall 2021 updates

This year there have been several significant changes in the Online Program Management (OPM) market, and I think our graphics could use some udpates even though the Summer version came out three months ago. Today I’m sharing an update on the graphics with a brief explanation, but I’ll follow up with additional posts over the next few months.

Changing Axes

The biggest issue with the market landscape graphic is that almost all vendors are expanding their reach in terms of degrees and certificates offered – who isn’t targeting undergraduate degrees and certificates these days? Keeping one axis based on this distinction has lost its meaning. That axis made sense in 2016, with the first version:

Now it is more important to capture the different categories of OPM providers, as new and changing business models offer the biggest changes in the OPM market. Traditional full-service OPM providers have been joined by for-profit conversions, and MOOC providers, etc.

As a side benefit, the new format below allows the graphic to be presented in landscape instead of a portrait layout, which helps with our presentations to clients. This new layout also allows a visual method to represent business model positioning along the tuition revenue-sharing to fee-for-service spectrum (and it is a spectrum, not a binary).

New Category

Speaking of categories, I’ve added a new quasi category of an adjacent market, largely focused on workforce education. Think Guild Education, Emeritus, and InStride. While these companies do not describe themselves as OPM providers, there is significant and growing overlap, and this category will have a significant and growing impact on the OPM market.

Consider the business model of this Workforce Education category: Create student demand for specific university-based online programs funded by increased tuition revenue at university partners. That is also the core of the OPM market.

The reason I list these companies as being in an adjacent market is that (in the case of Guild and InStride), they do not operate the online programs. No course or curriculum design, faculty professional development, hosting of the learning platforms, etc. In the case of Emeritus, they currently focus on non-credit courses and programs more akin to continuing education programs for workforce development. But those are fuzzy lines that are likely to become even more blurred as the companies evolve. For example, note the joint program at Spelman College. Guild Education signed Spelman as partners in August based on a new online unit (eSpelman) created with Collegis. This move is coordinated, and Guild is clearly going beyond signing partners with pre-existing online programs.

This category of companies acts as a two-sided platform to match a niche market of potential learners (corporate employee benefits for Guild and InStride, international workforce wanting online courses from US and UK elite universities for Emeritus) and match them with a network of university programs. This means far less reliance on traditional digital marketing and call-center based advisors to create demand, and more reliance on their workforce partners.

One reason to keep track of this category and its potential impact on the OPM market is the high level of funding and organizational support behind these companies. Just under $400 million of funding for Guild at a valuation of $3.8 billion, just under $700 million of funding at a valuation of $3.2 billion for Emeritus. I do not know the funding or valuation for InStride, but it is a venture created as a partnership between two large organizations – Arizona State University and The Rise Fund (part of private equity TPG).

OPM Market Landscape Updated View

As always, please note that this view is intended to give a visual overview of the market landscape and is not comprehensive in terms of vendors represented. This is particularly true in the smaller customer base and fee for service categories.

OPM market landscape Fall 2021 edition, listing major vendors and categories

OPM Market Dynamics Updated View

I have also updated the market dynamics graphic that captures the chaotic nature of the OPM market. The primary changes since Summer 2021 version:

  • The size of the vehicles now includes some information on the general size of the vendors. 2U, Coursera, Wiley, and Pearson have all been enlarged relative to the other vehicles. They are not accurately scaled, but I am hoping there is some visual separation now.

  • The new adjacent market category of WorkForce Education (Guild Education, Emeritus, InStride) has been added as a new groups crashing through the hills and approaching the OPM market. With sufficient smoke and clouds of dust to represent the somewhat unknown nature of these companies and where they will evolve.

The picture one gets is of a chaotic market that is not for the faint of heart, and one that will likely see further consolidations and category changes. All of this in a Mad Max-style pursuit of college online course and program revenue (whether rev share or fee-for-service or a blend, and whether degree- or certificate-based).

OPM market dynamics as Mad Max scene, updated for Fall 2021

Future Coverage

Given the changes within the OPM market, there are many details not captured in these views. Stay tuned for continuing coverage of the new adjacent market category, of the emerging wreck at Eastern Gateway Community College with their use of the Student Resouce Center as OPM, and of the development of the Online Education Platform model.