From a new Penn State study on online program management (OPMs) deals:
OPM contracts are—to be blunt—one strategy for extracting profit from a mostly nonprofit educational model. And, also bluntly, they are a way of doing so without attracting the level of regulatory scrutiny that is connected to the actual provision of for-profit higher education. […] Several firms we analyzed have legacy connections to for-profit higher education, and most are attracting venture capital investments (and a few initiating initial public offerings), which suggests confidence in the profitability and returns on investment that these vehicles provide.
The report (available on EdArXiv) is well-worth reading, though its policy recommendations are mostly defensive:
If regulation for outsourcing online program management moves too quickly and without caution, the outcome could decimate many colleges and universities by drying up their ability to outsource with for-profit companies—or, worse still, create large-scale issues for students when online programs cannot function internally within the institution offering the program.
But the point isn’t to preserve the OPM industry. The point instead is to keep higher-ed mission-aligned and nonprofit—to protect students and universities from windfall-extracting profiteers.