Through our participation in the Noodle Advisory Board, we got to know Stephen Green. Stephen has served as Noodle’s Chief Program Officer since 2017. Prior to that role, Stephen Qubed has held leadership positions at eCornell and 2U. Stephen kindly agreed to answer our questions.
Question 1: Let’s start with noodles. One of the challenges for Noodle is that the higher education community has a hard time understanding what you do. The company seems to want to define itself as an alternative type of OPM (online program management) company. At the same time, Noodle has moved away from positioning itself as an online program “general contractor.” Can you help explain what noodles do and how noodles differ from a conventional OPM?
OPMs have been an important part of helping higher education realize the potential of online learning for students’ access, as well as broadening the definition of quality in terms of student and faculty engagement and learning. Our team has established and run more significant OPMs, and we continue to believe in the value of OPMs by helping colleges and universities provide as great a learning experience as possible to students.
Our concern is how the OPM industry has evolved over the last 15 years, mainly with decades of revenue sharing agreements, lack of financial transparency on actual operating costs and flexibility of service delivery. This combination effectively keeps colleges and universities hostage to their own programs and removes any real opportunity to build their own institutional capacity in online services for higher education. Increasing that capacity for higher education is crucial for having a prominent presence in the growing online ecosystem.
The higher the capacity and understanding of higher education in online servicing, the better they will collaborate with the OPM industry on how to further the envelope on what 10, 20, 50, 100 year down road experience experiences should be.
Since it is in our best interests to partner with higher education, our focus is on providing a suite of services to support online programs that are excellent, flexible, and ultimately half the cost of a traditional ~ 60% revenue sharing agreement. Our focus on service costs is to ensure that we retain the lion’s share of revenue from our partners Them Programs so that they have the ability to increase their scholarship rewards and ultimately reduce the cost of student attendance. Our focus is on launching and running an online program, being transparent about the actual line-item costs, working to run more efficiently and working to reduce those costs and ensuring the benefits to our partners so that students can benefit and why we are different. We will win if our partners and their students win. What we do is no different (services are services and big); This is our philosophical view of how we do it and why it is different.
Question 2: The world of online learning is especially complex now. There are a variety of entities involved in creating online degree and certificate programs, from colleges and universities to for-profit companies. There is still much to learn about the cost, cost, and effectiveness of online learning. What role do noodles play in helping to answer this question? Can noodles contribute to the intellectual work needed to fully understand the place of online learning in higher education?
We fully agree on the complexities of the online learning world. If we consider for centuries that colleges and universities have been operating and that the Internet is relatively young, let alone online education, it is safe to say that we are at the very beginning of online education. Like all industries that will be part of our society for centuries to come, there are complexities, challenges and evolutions that will undoubtedly continue.
However, difficult challenges are never solved in isolation. The more smart people try to tackle a problem around the table, the more creative and diverse solutions will emerge. Emphasis on solutions as plural not singular; There are many approaches that can help different types of institutions that serve a different audience of students. We believe that our solution is unique and meets the demand the way we see it, but others in the market meet the demand as they see it – and that is what creates an industry and drives early evolution.
Given our commitment to transparency and our commitment to what is best for higher education (see answer to questions), we believe we are in a unique position to help bring institutions closer to understanding the terrain and to help position institutions for the evolution of online education. . There are some notable examples in our current activities where research can help illuminate the connection between higher education and online learning.
Flexibility of service and institutional capacity
- Our core business model allows organizations to provide services alongside us if they so desire and have the management capacity and resource commitment to do so. From a research trends perspective, more than 25% of our university partners already perform services in some capacity while we model best practices and evaluate their infrastructure and implementation capacity. (Warning: Under-indexing on any of these fronts can be disastrous for a school or online program.) This service flexibility helps them manage their overall organizational awareness and be able to think and plan for evolution on campus. A more refined perspective and understanding. However, organizations will not want to perform certain services for the foreseeable future, and we will continue to provide those services and integrate them into campuses based on their needs. None of this increase in capacity and blending will be possible in the traditional revenue sharing OPM model.
Noodle learning platform
- We announced earlier this year that we would launch our open course platform. The primary objective of that initiative is to help colleges and universities reclaim higher education lifelong learning space by allowing them to provide and control course experience and potential information as a way to increase completion rates and reduce acquisition costs across their degree programs, respectively. We’ve created our platform to research the results of the learning experience as well as to track the cross-enrollment of students in open degree courses in partner degree programs, online or on-ground. In the years to come, such information will contribute to the intellectual work required for higher education to place itself in the best position in lifelong learning.
- At the request of our university partners, we are creating a corporate partnership function to help bridge the gap between higher education and employers around the world who need degree-educated and / or highly skilled professionals. We will establish the right programs with the right employers to help them recruit, retain and improve their workforce. We will be announcing more about this soon. The subtlety of our approach is that we will create our strategy to help our universities reduce their operating costs for online programs rather than putting our own margins at the forefront of the strategy, which will enable our partners to see our transparency in marketing and recruitment costs in our model. As we develop this strategy, we will measure and report our progress with our impact on reducing acquisition costs.
Question 3: We want to close this question and answer by asking you about faith The idea is that many in traditional nonprofit academies find it hard to believe in for-profit online educational institutions. Many of us in higher education are concerned that schools and companies have fundamentally different incentives, deadlines and cultures. This concern – this lack of trust – may be at the heart of at least some of the opposition to nonprofit / profit sharing in online education. How do you deal with the notion that there is a challenge of trust between schools and companies, academics and executives in the online learning space? What can be done to build trust?
The reality is that a trust gap exists between higher education and for-profit companies. Pretending to have no faith gap only delays the task of filling the gap.
If we break down what “faith” actually means, it’s basically about reliability and reliability; This means that any person or organization is only as reliable or trustworthy as his or her motivations and interests. The most obvious way to evaluate a company’s motivation and interests is to evaluate their contract structure; That is, what are the terms of the agreement with their clients? Traditional OPM contracts (decades-long, prohibiting exits or renewals are prohibitively expensive, services have no flexibility, etc.) have made it difficult to build much confidence, especially as higher education has become more comfortable and knowledgeable with online education.
Traditional OPMs need to be addressed in order to be truly faithful through higher education. Perhaps GAO / DOE’s work over the next few years will accelerate thinking about how to restructure contracts to better align. However, it is not our place to answer how other companies will rebuild confidence through higher education (if they believe there is a gap of trust). All we can do is create a model and a contractual framework that reflects our motivations and interests and works hard against it in a way that contributes to faith-building.
But the belief is a two-way street, and companies in higher education (OPM and others) need to be open to skills and willing to find a breakthrough, acknowledging that they are not experts in some areas. The key to the evolution of online learning in these early days is collaboration to find that intersection.