Explained: What's an OPM?

Monday, November 8, 2021 - Phil Hill joins Michael and Jeff to explain what an OPM is and why they're causing so much controversy in higher ed these days.

Listen Now!

Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Join our Newsletter

Get notified when we release new episodes and access to special content.

Show Notes

Phil Hill's Blog - "Phil On Ed Tech"

OPM Market Landscape Graphic: https://philonedtech.com/opm-market-landscape-and-dynamics-fall-2020-updates/

Transcript

Michael Horn:

A decade ago, traditional higher ed was left wondering about the rise of for-profit colleges and universities and how they achieved 10% of enrollment in the sector.

Jeff Selingo:

And Michael, 10 years before that at faculty and administrators wondered why they were outsourcing a core function of learning in the classroom with the introduction of learning management systems built by outside for-profit companies, starting with Blackboard. Today on Future U we're going to take a look at the current for-profit education provider in the spotlight three letters you might see often these days, OPM or Online Program Managers, as Phil Hill co-founder of MindWires. And one of the best analysts of Edtech companies joins us on a slightly different episode of Future U.

Sponsor:

This episode of Future U was made possible by the support from Nelnet Campus Commerce, to read their latest study on improving retention, visit campuscommerce.com/retain and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is proud to support the work of the Postsecondary Value Commission. Because the question, what is college worth?, deserves answers. Learn more at postsecondaryvalue.org. Subscribe to Future U wherever you get your podcasts and follow us on Twitter at the handle @futureupodcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, please leave us a five star rating, so others can discover the conversations we're having about higher education.

Jeff Selingo:

I'm Jeff Selingo.

Michael Horn:

And I'm Michael Horn. We're going to try something a little bit different today. What we're calling an explainer episode in the hopes that it might become more of a regular feature on Future U. We've realized that over the last five years, we've interviewed a lot of guests and talked about some higher ed issues that might not be familiar to all listeners. And even for those listeners where the terms of art might be known, they might have assumptions that are wrong or have questions that could be helped by a little explaining.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, and so this episode will follow a slightly different format from our traditional ones. While we have an interview, the purpose of our guest expert is to really explain a phenomenon, that's become more important in higher ed. The rise of a class of companies known broadly as Online Program Managers or OPMs. We've had the CEO of the largest of the OPMs on here 2U, as well as people who are adjacent and moving into the OPM space. The CEO is of course, Sarah in edX. edX of course, was recently acquired or in the process of being acquired by 2U. We've had one of the founders 2U on who is now with Noodle Partners, so we've talked a lot about OPMs without really laying the foundation about what they are. And with the pandemic moving so many colleges and universities to online learning, Michael and I felt this was a good time to take this deep dive explainer with Phil Hill, who writes about the topic frequently. And we're going to link to his blog, PhilOnEdTech in the show notes.

Michael Horn:

Phil let's start off at the highest level. What is an Online Program Management company or an OPM as it's often called?

Phil Hill:

An OPM is a company it's usually for-profit that helps a higher education institution create and or manage an online program. And I think a key part of it is it's a primary partner for this creation. And it's typically for a traditional non-profit institution that they're working with.

Jeff Selingo:

And so Phil, as they bring programs online, like what do they do?

Phil Hill:

Usually you describe the four key services as marketing, recruitment, and market research, that's one. It's understanding who the students are and reaching out to them. Course and curriculum design that's appropriate for the online modality. Student support services, things like call center, help desk, retention services, et cetera. And then technology, infrastructure, and analytics, even though most companies or a lot of them are agnostic on their learning platform, they provide this. But the core of the market has always been student demand, so they do these services, but it really comes around student demand.

Michael Horn:

Gotcha. And what are they explicitly not allowed to do as they enter into these partnerships?

Phil Hill:

Well, they're certainly not allowed to do admission of students. They can't control which students are getting into the programs, they need to hand that off to the school. They are not allowed to do the actual instruction. The educational delivery needs to be handled by the school with their own faculty management. And they're not allowed to share student data between their schools or outside, or even the leads like which are or potential students without the permission of the institution.

Jeff Selingo:

Let me follow up on those leads, Phil, because these OPMs are representing multiple universities, so are you saying they can't share leads across universities?

Phil Hill:

That's certainly frowned upon. It's not as much of a straight regulatory issue, but it's a business practice type of issue. If you're a school and you're paying them revenue share, and the assumption is you're paying them for marketing. Well, you don't want to do that so that they can take leads and determine, Hey, we'd like to send students to a different program instead, and they can benefit from it from my marketing, so they're not allowed to do it, but it's more of a bad business practice issue than regulation.

Jeff Selingo:

Who are the big OPMs and how is the market kind of changing?

Phil Hill:

That's a loaded question. The big four have been pretty consistent recently. Like if you look the 2U, Academic Partnerships, Wiley Education Services, and Pearson Education, those are the big four. And they have been for a while. They have a large customer base, a large size of what they do. And just to know in our market analysis, I have a graphic that shows a lot of this landscape. If you search under OPM market landscape, you'll probably find it. But in any case, those are the big four, but you're right. There's a lot of change happening. And the change is a lot of it is new categories of providers that are out there, so it's not just here are the big ones and the small ones, there's new models, and there's a lot happening in this space.

Michael Horn:

Before we get into all the dynamics. And we'll make sure to include a link to that image in our show notes so that people can get access to it. But how have these companies made money? What's been the business model historically?

Phil Hill:

Well, traditionally it's been a tuition revenue share in an arrangement for every student that's coming in and paying tuition, the OPMs have been charging, let's say 50 to 70% of that, that goes back to the company. And that's essentially how they get funded. That leads to a lot of the questions about the model moving forward.

Jeff Selingo:

And so they've been able to justify those big percentages, Phil, right? Because they've been basically making these investment up front in these programs, right. And they do these somewhat quickly too. They're able to get programs up running quickly. Is there any way you could put a little color around that percentage? Like, are we talking tens of millions of dollars here, hundreds of million dollars, any sense of how much money we're talking about here?

Phil Hill:

Well, some of the numbers you're looking at is the initial investment to get started, so basically the argument is that by doing revenue share, the company is going to be losing money for the first three to five years, because that's when you have to create the student demand, get the program to a critical mass. And that investment is oftentimes up to say $5 million dollars per program. It's oftentimes much smaller, like half a million to a million dollars, but somewhere in that range is a good assumption for the investment side. Now, if you look at the program over let's say a 10 year life cycle, you're quite often dealing with tens of millions of dollars, upwards of a hundred million dollars plus for a program that's getting split between the school and the OPM provider.

Michael Horn:

Now we've alluded to the fact that the market's changing quite a bit. There are other programs coming on. Other companies being birthed that are helping universities put their programs online. And some of them have tried to say we're different from OPMs. And to some degree they've succeeded in that marketing, but these are companies like Noodle, ExtensionEngine. We've seen HolonIQ use the phrase OpX to describe these and other entities that help bring universities online. How are they different or not different from OPMs? And is there a real boundary in your mind or no?

Phil Hill:

Well, there's certainly a very public argument that portrays fee for service, they describe it versus revenue share. That's going into a school saying, Hey, we're not going to be taking your future revenue forever. We're just going to have you pay us for what we do, so it's a fee for service model as opposed to a revenue share. And because of that, they also tend to be a much more unbundled model. Okay, we don't have to do all of the four major services and everything that goes with it. If you think that your school can handle this part of it, you guys do that and only pay us for what we need to do, so that's the basic differentiation with the fee for service models.

Phil Hill:

In reality, it's not as much of a clean break between those, partially because a lot of companies are offering both models. Like Wiley is well known for this saying, Hey, here's how we can act as an OPM. You the school you choose, whether you want to do fee for service, revenue share, or a mix between the two, so it's a new addition to the market that's very important, but it's not a crisp clean line between the two.

Jeff Selingo:

Phil, are there other buckets that we should also be thinking of as this market evolves? There's bundled, rev share, fee for service. Are there other categories in the market that are more useful to classifying and understanding it's evolution going forward? I mean, what can you see happening next?

Phil Hill:

Well, we've talked about the revenue model and how that has sort of differentiated. But I think that there are important categories with things such as well, you've always had niche providers or smaller customer based providers that have been out there Everspring, Collegis, All Campus, you have these other OPMs who do the same things, but they're not as big as the big four. But now you have the real changes in the past few years, as you have new categories, like nonprofit conversions, so typically it's a for-profit school with a large online presence, but they really would like to exit the for-profit sector, convert that school into a nonprofit entity. And often what they do then is they'll separate out the nonprofit school, but then the parent company, they don't just go way. They become an OPM provider and they provide services.

Phil Hill:

Usually they start as a single client company. However, these are very large companies, as soon as they become an OPM, they're making revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars from day one, so it's a force to be reckoned with. That's one category. Another to be aware of are the MOOC providers, Coursera and FutureLearn in particular. And now that 2U has acquired edX, there's an angle there. And that's where those companies, the revenue model for Coursera, a lot of it depends on its OPM services, so that's a new category.

Michael Horn:

And all these distinctions that we're seeing in the market emerge, right? Like how would a university make a choice about who to help them? What are the factors that's driving it from the demand side of who should I work with? Given this quickly emerging market that looks very different from say 10 years ago when they were thinking about going online?

Phil Hill:

Well, the biggest change has been is it's no longer just an academic Dean making the decision based off of talking to two companies. And Hey, this sounds like a great idea. Let's do it. The field is getting more mature and you're getting more of an actual evaluation of the vendor field and what the options are. When I see schools trying to make this decision, they have to internally ask themselves as they go through the process, do they prefer a revenue share model or a fee for service model. That they also have to look at would they prefer to have somebody who's more of a provider for their specific discipline they're trying to go online?

Phil Hill:

That's a big factor is program specific, which one matches with them. And what their peers are doing, so there is a variety of factors, but then when it comes time to actually picking a vendor, a lot of that also gets into cultural fit and functional fit. Do they have strengths that we know we are weak in and can we work together as a program? But the big change is going back to it is at least it's becoming much more mature with a full evaluation in a way that it wasn't 10 years ago.

Jeff Selingo:

There's a lot to untangle here, so when we come back after the short break on Future U. We're going to talk about what's so controversial about OPMs and I'm going to bring Michael into this conversation as well about the state of where this business is going after the pandemic. We'll be right back.

Sponsor:

Did you know that 25% of students carry an unpaid balance from one term to the next? That means roughly one quarter of your students can be in danger of going to collections, but there's a way to support them. Nelnet Campus Commerce recently shared a study that outlines the best ways higher ed institutions can get past due students back on track. To learn more our listeners can download a free copy of their white paper at campuscommerce.com/retain, that's campuscommerce.com/retain.

Jeff Selingo:

We're back on Future U, and this is the point where we normally say goodbye to our guests, but Phil Hill is still with us. As we try to explain exactly what an OPM is, Online Program Manager. And in this segment, I'm also going to bring Michael into the conversation as we talk about the larger implications of OPMs going forward, but also to dive a little bit deeper on what Phil mentioned near the end of that last segment about driving demand. In essence, that's what OPMs are doing in addition to the other services that they're offering. But first let's go back to you for a minute, Phil. I mean, this sounds like a great deal for colleges and universities, right? Little investment up front to get programs online quickly. I was enrolled in one of these programs for a couple of months, and I know they got that program up in like six months, which is unheard of in higher education. And then you get students enrolled. What are the real trade off that we hear so often from academics, a lot of whom don't like these deals?

Phil Hill:

Well during the development of this market, if you will, historically is where is the line between the OPM provider and the school? And early on, you've got much more of an issue of are the OPM providers actually teaching the courses or just giving a canned course that the school really doesn't have much of a role in doing the teaching. You don't see those issues as much anymore. And I'd say the biggest controversy that you've seen more recently comes around the revenue sharing agreement. And I know we don't want to go into too much detail but it's not detailed regulation. It actually is driven by a 2011 Dear Colleague Letter from the Department of Education that essentially says, yes, revenue sharing is allowed in this case, if it's bundled services. But that didn't put the issue to bed, that's still a big controversy.

Phil Hill:

Is it okay to have a for-profit company taking the revenue or a percentage of the revenue, and a large percentage, now and 10 years into the future? That's probably the biggest controversy. And I think there's a smaller one that is not really just specific to OPMs but broader, it gets into transparency. Hey, we need to understand what are the outcomes? Are students graduating from these programs with too much debt? Are students benefiting from it? There's an increased desire for transparency coming out of this as well.

Jeff Selingo:

Phil, let me just, I used to cover Washington and the states and regulatory stuff for the Chronicle. And so I love getting deep into the weeds, but I think most of our listeners probably don't, so can we just jump back into that Dear Colleague Letter? What was that about? That was mostly around incentive compensation, correct? Which is an issue in regulatory circles in higher ed.

Phil Hill:

Yeah, you're exactly right. So the main concern at the time is you don't want to have a company who's generating leads and creating student demand to be paying people, essentially a bounty or commission on, Hey, if you enroll this many students, then you get this much money. And because then the incentives would be off. It's just getting people.

Jeff Selingo:

And that's kind of like a, to really put this in simple terms, it's why colleges can't pay their admissions officers like people pay sales people in the private sector, right? The more you sell, the more you make, you can't really do that in higher ed. The more students you enroll, the more you make.

Phil Hill:

Yeah, exactly. That was sort of the issue that drove it. And then the outcome of it really got more into, because this is a partnership, can a company get paid a percentage of revenue share? Because, if you think about it in effect, they are getting paid more, the larger the program is. How do you delineate that you're sharing in the success and the revenue, but you're not getting paid just based on a commission type of idea. And that's where the Dear Colleague Letter addressed.

Michael Horn:

The only thing I would add to that, Jeff, I think all that is right is a lot of these concerns stemmed from the for-profit university balloon, if you will, toward the end of the first decade of the two thousands. And then the popping in the first few years afterward, because a lot of critics saw that they were just enrolling students, many of whom were not fit for those programs and the incentives were all in that enrollment. And so the concern I think with for-profits now, playing with this revenue share is similar for many critics of these OPM models. The only thing I would add is it's not entirely clear why a fee for service model has any different incentives per se, on that particular concern. But I think a lot of the transparency questions about how are these students doing? Where do the marketing dollars go to? How much money is being spent on marketing? A lot of those things are other questions that people are trying to understand as they poke at some of these companies right now.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. Michael, that's actually a perfect lead into the next thing I wanted to dive a little bit deeper on for an explanation. And that's these formally for-profit universities that Phil mentioned that have sold their universities to nonprofit and public partners, and now are supporting those institutions and presumably others with a range of service, so Kaplan, Purdue Global, and Ashford University, and Arizona Global, Grand Canyon. Like Phil and Michael, can you slow this down a little bit for our listeners? And even for me to explain exactly what is happening in the market for that, and are there other players that this might happen with?

Phil Hill:

Well, take the one that really defined this nonprofit conversion model was Purdue Global and that was Kaplan higher education they had roughly...

Jeff Selingo:

Let's just slow that down a little bit.

Phil Hill:

Okay.

Jeff Selingo:

That was an OPM, right?

Phil Hill:

Kaplan Higher Education was a for-profit university part of the Kaplan parent company, if you will. They sold Kaplan University to Purdue for $1, but with an agreement that they had a 30 year contract to provide OPM services back to Purdue Global.

Jeff Selingo:

Which would continue to give them the revenue they needed.

Phil Hill:

Exactly, so now that created this new institution, Purdue Global, that is a nonprofit and owned by Purdue University and where Kaplan Higher Education, they are now a pure OPM provider in this case.

Michael Horn:

And the only thing I would add to that is I think Phil's done the best job, Jeff, of showing the benefits and drawbacks of these exchanges, if you will, of anyone starting to show how, when Kaplan sold that business, Phil, you have the numbers probably closer to mine, but it was around 30,000 slightly over students. And it fell in the first few years into the high 28 thousands, essentially because these conversions aren't immediate, right? There's new branding, there's new potentially admission standards. There's other people looking over the nonprofit university now along a range. But the biggest change is the marketing piece of this. In many cases to re-optimize, if you will, the student recruitment around this new name, value proposition, distinguish it from the parent and so forth.

Michael Horn:

That's a head of a lot of work. And I think Phil touched on the other piece by the way that we maybe should just double click on also, which is the other big criticism of a lot of these arrangements are these long contracts, right? Now, Kaplan is able to benefit as an OPM from 25, 30,000 students over a long time horizon. And a lot of critics have questioned gee, that's a long time to enter into a contract. The retort of traditional OPMs has been yeah, but look at how much money we're putting in on the front end. It takes a while to pay it back. And so we're sort of allowing the market for these nonprofit universities to go online that otherwise may not have existed.

Phil Hill:

What made that more difficult, particularly in the Purdue case is you're making such a large decision with no meaningful faculty involvement in it. And the argument was Kaplan's a publicly traded company. They had to keep it quiet. But while that argument may be technically true, it meant the university was making a multi decade commitment to a new model without really much internal discussion about whether they should and how to do it.

Jeff Selingo:

And the reason these universities wanted to do this was to kind of jumpstart their online efforts, right? Because otherwise, if Purdue had to build its own global campus, it might take 30 years.

Phil Hill:

Yeah. I think speed is one of the key elements. And you guys mentioned how quickly they can stand up a program. Whereas a traditional school might debate it for two or three years, then get started, and then figure out things they didn't know how to do, so it might be a five year process. Speed to develop a program is a really key issue, but it's also knowhow. I mean, it can be as simple as saying such as if you're going for a fully online student audience and let's say they're working adults, which many of these programs are going after. Well, you can't just do your marketing and have counselors ask questions Monday through Friday nine through five. You need to have your response to them when they ask a question online in a matter of hours, not days. Well, how do you do that? How do you manage that type of activity? These companies know how to do this and know what's important in terms of response time, in a way that most traditional schools just don't have that know-how.

Jeff Selingo:

OPMs tend to generate a lot of controversy, Phil, so anything else that we're missing as we kind of wrap that piece of this up and then talk about what's next?

Phil Hill:

Well, one thing I'd be watching for is the GAO, the Government Accountability Office is doing a study and they have been doing through most of this year on OPMs and trying to look at, are we regulating them appropriately? Do we need to have new rules? Where are the potential issues? And when this comes out as a full report into Congress, I think that's going to drive a lot of the future discussion on regulations and it might even reframe some of the controversy areas that we're looking at, so that's one thing I would point out is watch for that to come out.

Jeff Selingo:

Okay. As we head home here, I want to bring both you and Michael, back into this conversation around kind of what's next? Talking a little bit about the demand side for higher education. Talk about the undergraduate market, which we haven't really talked about and also talk about just like kind of these platform plays that places like Coursera seem to be doing, so let's start there. You had mentioned earlier that Coursera kind of is moving into this market, but in a very different way. Can you talk a little bit about kind of that next evolution?

Phil Hill:

Well, Coursera, one of their defining features is we have tens of millions of registered learners. Now, likewise, if you look over at the student demand side of the OPM, so much of that is based on digital advertising, going through Google, Facebook, and doing this advertising that's getting more and more expensive every year. And so you have a company like Coursera and their promise of them or what their claim is, is because we have these tens of millions of registered learners we'll be able to market to them directly through email, not paying marketing. Therefore, we can do it cheaper. Therefore, we can help programs create lower tuition offerings, moving out there. And it also gives a free entry model where students can start taking a course for free, try things out, and then decide if they would like to become a matriculated student for a degree program, or get into a bootcamp, so the new model is based on sort of that promise, which is very interesting. It just hasn't been fully proven out yet.

Michael Horn:

Yeah, I think Jeff, this is the big thing to watch in the years ahead because we see Noodle now also trying to do something similar with creating a pool, if you will, of ideally millions of registered users that they can direct to different programs as leads. I think it's going to put a big question in something Phil, that maybe you set up front, which is, will there be more sharing of leads within these networks if you will, because that's sort of how the pooled business might have to work. And I think that's something to keep an eye on, whereas before it was sort of frowned upon, it might become a perk if you will, of these new models. The other thing I'll just say is that you alluded to part of the reason to be intrigued by these platform plays, if you will, is that it could lower the cost of marketing, which could help lower the cost of the overall degree.

Michael Horn:

And that's one of the other criticisms of these OPM arrangements is people alleging that they've driven up the cost of higher ed. Now, if you say that to someone at 2U, they'll quickly say it's actually a heck of a lot easier for me to sell a low cost program from Simmons say than a high cost program from another university. And so it's actually in our advantage to get the prices down, but there's controversy around there all the same. And the point is that marketing costs take up a sizeable of these online program management budgets. And so if you can reduce it by having a captured pool, if you will, of registered users, that could be a very intriguing way. And indeed Coursera has done that with the University of Illinois, for example, with their iMBA program where they dramatically cut the cost down.

Michael Horn:

I think it's something like 25,000 all in or something like that for an MBA. And the University of Illinois stopped offering it's on campus MBA shortly thereafter, so there's peaks of evidence, I suppose, that they can play this. It's just, I think it's going to be a very interesting question. I'm curious your thoughts on this Phil, for a business like Coursera, that also has the direct to business part of its business. Sometimes are they going to be at odds with each other in any way and pull the company to do things that maybe make sense for one, but not make sense for the other and take away the coherence of the model?

Phil Hill:

Well, we have to watch for that. And it's interesting. And we should definitely mention here that 2U acquired, or is in the process of acquiring edX another, a nonprofit MOOC provider specifically to get into this platform model so that they're doing the same things, tens of millions of learners, lower cost of marketing, et cetera, and also to get into undergraduate and other things outside of the sweet spot, which has been high priced masters and professional programs. Part of the argument, I think that 2U would make, and I've heard them make this is they are driving that direction, that's why they've invested in this new model. Now, does that put them at odds? It's an interesting question because the whole sharing of the leads now we're talking about, Hey, the company already has all of these leads. It's not like the school is helping to make it happen.

Phil Hill:

And then you can't share what we helped create. The OPMs coming in saying, Hey, we already have all these students, so it already goes outside of the assumptions that we had 10 years ago. That is part of the reason I think the GAO, hopefully they're looking at well, what is appropriate and how do you regulate this field? Yeah, it's an emerging field, so there's absolutely a risk that the motivations of the company could be misaligned with the school, particularly because I think a lot of schools are not quite sure what they're going to want out of this. It's going to be more of a, let's see what happens here and we'll learn as we go, so there definitely is a risk of misalignment.

Jeff Selingo:

Phil, something you mentioned there that I want to dive a little bit deeper on and we'll make these last couple of questions just kind of more lightning round. You've talked about the professional market, graduating professional market. What about the undergraduate market? Why isn't there really an OPM for the undergraduate market?

Phil Hill:

Well, undergraduate in general, students are not as adept at online education as graduate. Partially because you know, it takes time management, it takes self discipline. It also takes the students say, I know why I'm doing this and undergraduate a lot of times, it's just, Hey, I'm going to school. Yeah, I selected this major, but I might change. I don't know what's going on. And I haven't developed some of these self-study skills or time management. And undergraduate tuition is a lot more constrained, particularly with public institutions then the masters are professional, so even though they're public, a lot of the masters and professional programs could charge very high prices for their programs, which gives a bigger opportunity for an OPM, so that's why it's been difficult. However, I think all of the OPM providers or most of them would like to get into undergraduate now. I wouldn't say that we're saturated, but there are so many online masters and professional programs already. You can't just build it and they will come anymore. You need to expand. You need to be specific about where you're going.

Michael Horn:

And Jeff, it's interesting. Phil pointed to the masters programs being more unconstrained. I think the other thing we haven't said is why so many faculty have benefited from OPMs is that it's brought cash into their core, if you will, institution for research, teaching, whatever it might be that perhaps wasn't there before. What's interesting is we have seen large online undergraduate programs. They've just typically been run by universities like Southern New Hampshire University or, or some of the for-profits that did not have this OPM contract alongside of it. And the motivations going in were different.

Phil Hill:

Yeah. You would argue that they really are internal OPMs, they developed an internal OPM to make this happen.

Jeff Selingo:

Let's just wrap up with this kind of big question. Why does this all matter to anyone that works at a college or university, if it's just in one corner of it? But more than that, is this a moment where these institutions might be learning from these outside providers? And then when those long contracts are up, they say, okay, we learned what we needed to do, now we're going to do it. Is there any option where these things might come back in house someday?

Phil Hill:

Well, it does matter. And it matters a lot more than it used to, obviously the pandemic has affected it. It used to be an isolated program with revenue opportunities. Now online education is becoming an existential question for many universities and they need to figure out how to do it. Well, part of the way to do it aggressively and quickly is to work with an OPM partner. But then that raises the question. Is the school more broadly developing its own skillset to be able to manage online education moving forward? With the pandemic, it just rapidly increased online education. It's not going to remain as high, but it's now much more strategic, so they should care about it, particularly in terms of core competencies. And to the question about, can they get out of it? I would point to the University of Florida online when UF online got started, it was through an OPM model, partnering with Pearson.

Phil Hill:

I believe they had very unrealistic assumptions on their enrollments getting into it, but essentially the partnership wasn't working out for a variety of reasons on both sides, and they separated that. And UF online really now runs its own program with its own group inside, so they've proven that this can be done and there are other schools that do it. However, in most cases it's quite difficult because a lot of these contracts are very poorly written and there's no clear answers about how to separate, so it's going to be an increasing area of concern about how to separate when the time is appropriate, or can you even partially separate? Hey, let's modify things. You guys handle this, reduce the fee, and I'll do this other thing, so it can be done, but it's difficult.

Michael Horn:

And Jeff, you talk a lot about how there are advantages increasingly to scale in the market. I think this is the advantage for the companies is that they are taking advantage of all the scale across all their partners to build up their expertise in a lot of different functions. And so will there be universities that take certain functions? Absolutely. I'd be shocked if they didn't, but there is going to be places where there are advantages that accrue to scale in the data and insights that come from that.

Jeff Selingo:

Well, this has been exactly the conversation I was hoping we would have because we use these letters OPM so often on this program, over the last 88 episodes. And I always fear that people have no idea what we talk about, so this is exactly what we wanted with one of these explainer episodes. Phil, thank you so much for joining us, Phil Hill. Michael, thank you for kind of playing both roles on this show and I hope our listeners appreciated this episode. And please give us some feedback if you want more of these explainer type of episodes and tell us what you want explained to you. Thank you for listening to Future U and we'll see you next time.

Wherever You Listen to Podcasts