Online Program Managers help build and market online programs for many colleges and universities. However, there are alternatives to online program managers emerging that provide cost-effective options for institutions.

The demand for online education is on the rise, and it’s not just among non-traditional students. Fueled by the pandemic, students of all kinds, including more traditional-age students, are now exploring fully-online programs in lieu of traditional, on-campus experiences.

To keep pace with the demand for online programs—and to remain competitive—many colleges and universities are expanding the number and types of online courses and programs they offer. But developing new courses and programs is time-consuming. That’s why many institutions today are engaging with online program managers (OPMs). 

Currently, the estimated size of the OPM market in the United States is $5B, or 18.5% of the total online higher education market. And it’s estimated that 20% of all institutions are working with one or more OPMs in some way or another. 

Institutions work with OPMs for a variety of reasons. For some, OPMs support the development of online programs, including curriculum development. Others provide much-needed marketing resources to help fill the student funnel. And still others use them for a blend of both. And while OPMs help colleges and universities fill critical gaps, they come at a cost: up to 40-60% of per student revenue.

Overcoming Credit Loss: Pathway-Aware Transfer Equivalency Solutions

One way to help support transfer students, and improve the overall process, is by providing better ways for students to understand which credits will transfer – and which credits will not. Too often, students enter the transfer process without this knowledge and are surprised to find out that they need to take, or retake, classes in order to fulfill graduation requirements at their new institution. Sometimes this situation occurs because their credits do not transfer at all. But more often, it’s because their credits transfer, but do not apply to the degree that they are pursuing. In either case, this results in extra work and extra cost, not to mention delays in their ability to graduate on time.

One way to help students avoid this situation is by selecting transfer equivalency solutions that are “pathway aware.” Transfer equivalency solutions that are pathway aware help students understand credit transfer and credit applicability, as well as what their academic journey will look like if they transfer from one institution to another. Will all of their credits transfer? If they do, will they all apply towards the degree they are pursuing at the new institution? Or are there certain credits that will transfer, but not fulfill a degree requirement, causing the student to retake the class in order to meet the new institution’s requirements?

All of these questions are important, but few transfer students can confidently answer them today. And without this information, many students are opting to transfer without understanding the full impact of how their existing credits will apply to the degree they wish to pursue.

Are OPMs the Only Option?

As the demand for online programs continues to grow, many institutions feel like their only option is to work with an OPM. But we believe that there is another option that institutions can explore: course and program sharing.

Course and program sharing enables institutions to expand their catalog of online course and program offerings through collaboration with other colleges and universities. This collaboration can occur among public systems, consortia, and even individual schools that opt in to a network of shared courses. 

Collaborating to build or expand programs enables colleges and universities to keep pace with the growing demands for online education without the added expense of OPM support. And as more students, traditional and non-traditional, look for online alternatives, course and program sharing provides institutions with a way to recruit and retain students looking for these online educational experiences.

Marketing Agency vs. OPM

In addition to online course and program development, OPMs provide valuable marketing and recruiting resources for many institutions. They provide flexibility to ramp up or down resources as needed. And they can fill gaps when it’s difficult to find, hire, and retain marketing talent. 

But OPMs are not the only way to fill these gaps. Marketing agencies, some specifically focused on higher education, can provide colleges and universities with access to the resources they need to support their recruiting and marketing programs. They provide expertise that is often difficult for institutions to find – and keep. And they can provide many of the services that institutions rely on OPMs for today.

An Alternative to Online Program Managers

Collaboration, paired with external recruiting and marketing support, is a viable alternative for colleges and universities who want to move away from costly OPM relationships. 

There are two models of course and program sharing that colleges and universities can consider: the institutional agreement model and cross registration. In the institutional agreement model, a home institution selects courses from a teaching institution and offers those courses to its students as though the courses were their own. In cross registration, institutions build on existing transfer equivalencies, which simplifies the sharing agreement while also expanding the courses and programs available to their students.

If your institution is considering course and program sharing as an alternative to OPMs, the first step is to understand the different models of course sharing. Then, identify institutions you can collaborate with and assess what technology you need to support course and program sharing for your institution and its partners. While there are many ways to support basic course sharing amongst institutions, full program sharing requires more advanced technology and planning with your partners. 

While OPMs can help institutions looking to expand their online course and program offerings, they are not the only option. Consider your needs and assess alternatives like course and program sharing before deciding which option is right for you.

About the Author


Quottly helps higher education systems, consortia, and institutions expand academic opportunity, create new pathways to completion, solve transfer challenges, and drive efficiency. Explore Quottly solutions…