Becoming Your Own Online Program Manager

July 2017 Issue

CAPDM Newsletter


CAPDM Opinion

How to become your own online program manager

Dear Reader,

We recently came across a June 2016 article in The Atlantic Magazine on online program managers (OPMs), and how much money they are making from marketing student enrolments in the USA.

OPMs offer universities modern marketing tactics. Amongst them are websites that collect information to generate marketing leads, text message follow-ups to inquiries, and phone banks with ambitious “career counsellors” ready to help students complete financial-aid requirements and enrol.

Five companies reportedly control about half of the $1.1 billion OPM market: 2U, Academic Partnerships, Bisk, Pearson Embanet, and Wiley Education Solutions.

A 2014 profile in Forbes reported that Academic Partnerships scored $100 million in annual sales by taking 50 percent of tuition revenue from the 82,000 students it had placed in online programs across 40 virtual campuses at public schools such as the University of Texas at Arlington and Florida International University.

The article suggests that non-profit schools (including public schools) spend an average of $38.53 for a lead—just for the name and information of someone who may be interested in attending their school. It costs more than $380 to turn that lead into an application and more than $2,200 for every student who actually enrols.

John Katzman founded one of the most successful OPMs (2U – worth more than $1.3 billion).  Katzman now disagrees with the practice of tuition-sharing, and sees a new OPM model taking hold. His new company, Noodle Partners, is an OPM that uses flat fees-for-service instead of tuition-sharing.

Whether you believe the current tuition-fee sharing model will continue, or a new flat-fee based one will replace it, rather depends on whether you think universities have a chance of doing some of this successfully by themselves. We believe they should, as it’s pretty core to a university’s business and losing 80% or even 50% of fee revenue outside of the organisation is not sustainable.

So what’s stopping universities being their own OPMs?

There are four ‘ducks’ that need to be lined up in a row to do so successfully – Business; Academic; Course Engineering and Administration.

  • Business – senior managers and leaders need to resource a programme of institutional change, wholeheartedly. They need to commit to a new business plan that can validate the key new developments in revising programme delivery practices, to include the new online education ones as well.  This is hard, because often senior academics are not promoted on the basis of their business acumen or change management skills.
  • Academic – senior academics need to learn more about distance learning (which a lot of good online learning involves).  This too is hard, because distance learning thinking is not core to most academic departments or academics.  Even experienced distance learning departments are struggling with the latest online learning technologies and pedagogies, and their apparent expense and complexities.
  • Content Engineering – producing twelve or fifty good quality, online distance learning modules is an engineering task, involving a team of multi-skilled individuals developing and maintaining hundreds of individually published course components, and multiple delivery formats.
  • Administration – try introducing a customer-friendly 3-minute online student enrolment process to your institution, and see what resistance it meets.  How can you offer regular examination diets to students around the world, that aren’t tied to your time zone, season or academic calendar.

There is value-add in marketing and sales, but only if universities fail to leverage their own reputations with good quality, flexible, online product offerings.  Our advice is to leverage what you’ve already got; get ready to change things; learn to treat all your students as distance learners; get your 4 ducks in a row; and become your own OPM.

CAPDM is an online programme management enabler – we help you to do it all yourself.  Do your first programme with us, if only because we’ve done it successfully many times before.  You can then build up your own permanent OPM capability.

Further discussion:

  1. There is a related online discussion running on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2444806

We would be delighted to discuss any ideas and comments with you. Please do get in touch.

Email me now.

Martin Smith
Managing Director, CAPDM Ltd.


About the author
Martin Smith MSc is a core founder and managing director of CAPDM Ltd. A software engineer by trade, during the 1990’s he was product development manager for Office Workstations Limited and GUIDE 3 – the first commercial hypertext product. He worked for OWL International Inc in Seattle as an electronic publishing solutions consultant, responsible for the specification and implementation of electronic publishing solutions for Ford, GEAE and the US Navy. Through CAPDM, Martin has been applying open-standards based single-source publishing technologies to higher education for 20+ years, and has influenced the development of some of the most successful online distance learning programs operating today.


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This newsletter was originally sent by CAPDM Ltd. on the 06. July 2017.

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