Tired of OPMs? Here are 5 steps to online education independence

To free themselves from OPM dependence, institutions must transition online program components through a combination of university change management, consultancy and specialized services support. 
Rosie Walker & Janet Hurn
Rosie Walker & Janet Hurn
Rosie Walker is the president of Mediate.ly, a leading demand-gen paid media agency known for delivering exceptional results for clients. Janet Hurn is the co-founder of Future Ready Consulting, a business consulting firm dedicated to supporting those who want to take control of their financial future.

Due to unprecedented changes in the higher education landscape, such as the impact of COVID-19 and the increasing demand for digital learning solutions, the need to adapt at a rapid pace has led many universities to depend on Online Program Managers (OPMs) for expanding their offerings in online education. An OPM, in this context, is an external entity that provides bundled products and/or services to help educational institutions create, market and administer their online programs.

However, declining enrollments and unmet promises by OPMs have left institutions searching for a more self-sustaining approach to online education. Institutions often wind up continuing to pay OPMs but without the returns that were promised in growing online program student populations.

Institutions often don’t know what they don’t know. Is the low enrollment due to marketing, quality, student online services or something else?

The Solution: Transition online program components through a combination of university change management, consultancy and specialized services support.

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Enhance instructional design services

Effective instructional design is crucial for the success of online and hybrid programs. Universities can either outsource program and course development or build in-house services. While in-house services ensure long-term consistency and cost-efficiency, an initial engagement with external instructional design services can serve as a stepping stone towards establishing an internal team. The availability of skilled instructional designers has increased, providing a pathway for institutions to build capacity.

Invest in faculty development and support

The collaboration between faculty members and instructional designers is essential for successful online programs. Providing faculty with an orientation course focused on online instruction, ongoing support and guidance on engaging and supporting students within the online learning environment significantly enhances the quality of education. A dedicated support desk should be available 24/7 to address online student and faculty issues.

Strengthen student support systems

Apart from technical support, universities must offer a comprehensive suite of support services for online students, including accessibility services, tutoring, mental health services and opportunities for student engagement. Admission, orientation, scheduling and advising services should also be extended to off-campus students. Evaluating and enhancing existing student support systems is vital for the success and retention of online students.

Ensure entire university agreement and engagement

A successful transition to online education requires collaboration across all departments within the institution. Admissions, student support services, advising, IT services and other key departments must align their strategies to ensure a seamless transition. This inclusive approach guarantees that each department contributes to the success of online programs.

Craft a strategic marketing approach

Most universities have never had to market online or off-site programs. This requires a different approach that encompasses a wider service area. A targeted marketing strategy is critical for the success of a new online program.

Partnering with a digital marketing agency focused on the higher education industry can be instrumental in this transition. Their tailored expertise and strategies can assist universities in reclaiming control over their online programs and driving sustainable growth.

Essential activities for successful omnichannel marketing in online education include conducting a comprehensive audit of online presence; analyzing the competitive landscape; developing a customized marketing strategy covering SEO, PPC, content, social media and email; optimizing the website for user experience; and creating relevant, SEO-focused content to enhance findability.

Utilizing an agency in the transition from an OPM to online education independence is especially helpful at the outset, particularly when dealing with multiple work streams that require attention. As the programs are relaunched, the agency’s support can be adapted and realigned to match the evolving needs of the university.

The journey from OPM reliance to achieving autonomy in online education might seem daunting, but it offers significant benefits, including budget, operational, brand and quality control. Prioritizing the student experience and aligning with current and prospective students’ expectations is crucial. Delaying the transition will only continue to increase costs.

By following the comprehensive pathway outlined in this article universities can confidently establish their presence in the online education landscape.


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