The Role of OPM’s in the Ever-changing Online and Digital Learning Landscape


The digital and online learning landscape is continually evolving. Michigan State University’s HUB for Innovation in Learning and Technology (http://hub.msu.edu) works to understand this evolution and informs MSU stakeholders regarding the latest market intelligence and global program opportunities. One of the ways we maintain this intelligence is through our connections with leaders in the online and digital learning industry.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Josh Fauske, Sales Director for All Campus (www.allcampus.com) and discuss the role online program managers (OPM’s) play in assisting universities in the delivery of online and digital learning.

Q: What key roles do OPM’s and related service providers play in today’s online/digital learning landscape and why is it important?

A: Third party Online Program Managers (OPMs) – e.g., All Campus, 2U – assist universities that want to offer their higher education programs in an online environment, but lack internal personnel, capital and expertise to do so. The OPM provides the up-front marketing and recruitment investment, marketing assets, enrollment and retention support, and, in some cases, course development so that universities can focus dollars and personnel on their core area of expertise – teaching and research.

The OPM is responsible for raising awareness of a university’s online offering and assisting students with pulling together the application materials required. The University, not the OPM, evaluates the applications and admits students they deem to be qualified. Once admitted, the OPM then supports the university with retention efforts, e.g. re-registration, outreach etc. from enrollment through graduation.

The OPM is awarded a share of the tuition for each admitted student throughout the time the student remains enrolled. This model is success-based in two ways: 1) the OPM will only receive compensation if the prospective students they bring to the school are accepted and 2) the more successful a student is within the program – i.e., the longer they retain – the more compensation the OPM will receive. This model aligns the incentives of the OPM with that of the university – to recruit quality students who will graduate. This is an important aspect of the relationship that differentiates the OPM/university with other “for-profit” providers in the online higher education space that have developed a reputation for predatory recruitment practices.

In a nutshell, these partnerships are the classic business case for outsourcing to create a better overall experience for the customer, which in this case is a student. The vendor focuses on their expertise in marketing, enrollment, and retention, which allows the University, to focus on its core mission – research and teaching.

Q: How does All Campus help organizations advance their online/digital Learning initiatives?

A: All Campus, with its many years in the OPM space and a robust client portfolio, has developed an approach to marketing student recruitment that pairs specialists in key areas – paid search, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), enrollment, etc. – with sophisticated software that produces results. In short, All Campus is able to generate several million dollars in tuition revenue for a school, incremental to what the institution is able to produce today, without the university having to take on any of the financial or human resource risk.

All Campus also assesses the programs a university is currently offering, and would like to offer, to determine how each would be able to compete in the market based on factors like university brand awareness, the cost of the degree, the overall market size and projected growth of that market. This enables the partner university to make informed decisions regarding the factors that will make a program successful both in the marketplace and for students. A thorough market review also enables All Campus to reasonably project the amount of qualified applicants it will be able recruit on the school’s behalf.

Q: What will online/digital learning look like in the next five years?

A: There will be more students that choose fully online classes, and there will be more students that select hybrid options (part on campus, and part online). The trends are clear. In 2005, 6% of master’s students in the U.S. were fully online. In 2014, the number of fully online master’s students grew to 15%. By 2020, it is estimated that 20% of the master’s student audience will be fully online.[1]

In addition to the size of the market, advancement in technology continues to progress allowing faculty to collaborate with students (and students to collaborate with each other) in more engaging ways. For example, Madrid’s IE University is piloting a new wall display that allows faculty to see 80 online students at once across the world. San Diego State University is also implementing a new technology called Learning Glass that “allows instructors to write lecture notes while maintaining face-to-face contact with students”. While these tools may be cutting-edge now, these and others could be commonplace in the online classroom of 2020.

Q: What is the biggest advantage of online/digital learning?

A: Many students seek out online/digital learning for its convenience, especially adult learners who are attempting to complete a degree or advance their career while managing work and family obligations.

Online has the benefit of being highly interactive. Though many think of the campus experience as the ultimate in interaction with the professor – this just isn’t true. Online learning utilizes discussion questions, message boards, group assignments, and other engagement technologies to ensure students participate and interact.

According to a guide published by UMass Amherst on online teaching and learning, online learning can also be advantageous to faculty. It can help them bring fresh approaches back to their traditional classrooms and expose them to a more diverse student population. The convenience factor that appeals to students also can extend to faculty members who can teach and/or conduct office hours from home.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing higher education and education in general?

A: The biggest challenge facing American higher education is the cost of tuition. In 2014, 24% of alumni said the cost of their education exceeded its value[2]. Universities cannot increase tuition at rates that price the next generation out of the system. This has already created a scenario where we’re limiting access to higher education due to its cost. Fortunately, online offers a more efficient delivery mechanism than brick and mortar, so that should help curb the tuition cost growth rate.

The second issue is balancing providing well rounded students versus a laser focus on in-demand career paths (e.g., STEM). Employers prefer that new graduates have specific skills required to be successful on the job from day-one, with a need for limited training; however, there is clearly a value in the well-rounded education a liberal arts degree provides.

Josh Fauske, Sales Director for All Campus can be reached at (312) 525-3095 or by e-mail: jfauske@allcampus.com Gerald Rhead, author of this article and Director of Academic Entrepreneurship for MSU’s Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology can be reached at: rhead@msu.edu.

[1] Eduventures Report 2015 – National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Census Bureau

[2] Borysenko, Karlyn. “Five Critical Issues Facing Higher Education Leaders in 2014.” Eduventures. N.p., 10 Apr. 2014. Web.

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About rheadmore

I spend my working day at a great higher education institution by the name of Michigan State University. I try to spend a majority of my free time coaching youth sports, baseball and basketball are my favorites. This blog is dedicated to enhancing youth coaching and helping youth become successful and well contributing members of society. This philosophy was passed on to me by my father who always stressed leaving something better then the way you found it. I have been trying to live by those words for most of my adult life. Thanks for checking out my blog.
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