3 questions about OPM research for 2U’s David Sutphen

For several years, we have been advocating for companies in the field of online program management (OPM) to support independent research on institutional and student outcomes associated with not-for-profit/for-profit partnerships.

So we are pleased when one of these OPM leaders we presented this matter to has agreed to discuss some ideas in this space.

As 2U’s Director of Strategy and Engagement, David Sutphen is well placed to address any concerns PMOs may have in supporting independent research, while also being able to commit resources to this type of research. effort if he is convinced. We are grateful to David for wanting to make this conversation transparent and open.

Q. In our previous discussions about the need for independent, data-driven OPM outcome research, you were supportive but expressed some concerns. Chief among your hesitations was the challenge of obtaining outcome data (of schools and students) from the other two OPMs beyond 2U and from schools that run online programs with in-house resources. Can you elaborate on your concerns and perhaps share some ideas on how to overcome these obstacles?

First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss this important topic. I appreciate the venue and openness with which you address these issues. I remember our conversations well. At the time, 2U and others in our space were frustrated with the lack of available data and research beyond what we collect and analyze “in-house” that could give us more definitive insight into the how students enrolled in online higher education programs were persisting, graduating, and having positive career outcomes.

The reality is that before we can determine what those outcomes look like for OPM-powered courses relative to the broader landscape of online programs, we need better data on the outcomes of online programs versus programs. traditional residential homes more broadly. For the most part this does not exist and it is a barrier to our collective understanding of the challenges and opportunities of online learning. OPM partnerships remain a growing, but still relatively small, part of the industry. So while it is important to ask questions about the outcomes and quality of OPM-supported programs, as a policy we have broader questions to answer, especially at a critical time when institutions continue to rethink (and, in many cases, begin) their digital transformation journey.

To get to the heart of this problem, about a year ago, 2U and others in our space approached University of Tennessee, Knoxville professor and independent researcher Robert Kelchen to find and analyze data on the results of OPM Partnerships eLearning. He recently published his findings and wrote about them for Inside Higher Ed – his conclusion is, essentially, that there is no way to determine student outcomes in OPM-supported online programs versus other online programs, or online programs in general, regardless of partnership models. , using currently available College Scorecard and IPED data. It also makes useful policy recommendations to address this issue, which we fully support.

As we’ve shared with you before, we take data transparency seriously and will continue to do so as we grow with edX. 2U was the first OPM to publish a transparency framework and annual transparency reports that include results from our partners’ online programs (we’ve done two so far, with more to come) and to commission research with Gallup to study the results of our programs (we have also published two of these studies, and more will follow). From our own interactions with our partners and their students, we see the positive impacts we have on people’s lives, but we also recognize that there is still work to be done to foster even greater transparency around the results. And we are committed to this work.

Q. Do you have any ideas on where the research infrastructure around non-profit/for-profit partnerships should be built? Should he live in a university? Or should 2U create an independent research group within the company? What do you think are the pros and cons of each approach?

We believe that the recent analysis conducted by Robert Kelchen in partnership with other edtech companies is a good model as he maintained full control over data analysis.

Before we think about doing more independent research like this, it seems clear from Kelchen’s findings that we first need better publicly available data. Without it, it is extremely difficult to answer the types of questions you have asked, because the necessary data is not available or is inconsistent across institutions, preventing apples-to-apples comparisons.

We seek to help our partners do more of this work, such as supporting MIT and Harvard’s nonprofit The Center for Reimagining Learning, as well as the University of North Carolina at the Digital Education Research Hub of Chapel Hill.

Q. In your opinion, what are the highest priority research questions? Do you think the unit of analysis (at least for initial research) should be institutional outcomes (the impact of OPM vs non-OPM partnerships on universities) or individual learners (such as graduates, debts , income, etc.)? What research would you like to see?

I would be very interested to see research analyzing the impact over 3, 5 and 10 years of online and on-campus degree and non-degree programs on the lives of learners across a multitude of factors: income growth, general happiness, job satisfaction, debt levels, continuing education paths and more. Some studies of graduate earnings stop at the one-year mark, which in many fields does not allow enough time to measure job satisfaction, which can include factors other than just earning potential. .

Gallup just published a blog post on the ROI of the boot camps we power with universities and the results are compelling – one year after graduation, the median salary of all boot camp graduates surveyed was $11,000 more than they said they were earning while they attended boot camp. Among graduates employed full-time in both years, median salaries increased from about $59,000 during boot camp to $70,000 after boot camp. Median income growth was 17%.

Having more independently verified longitudinal studies of postgraduate and boot camp outcomes for graduate students in the online space, whether or not those students have completed an OPM-supported program, would also be extremely precious. However, as Kelchen points out, for degree-granting programs, this starts with better data collection by colleges and universities initially for all learning modalities, and it may also require improved data collection efforts. data by the federal government so that outcome data is more publicly available. Ultimately, better data will benefit students and create informed policy.