Why the fee-for-service model matters to universities going online

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At least 30 percent of students on campus take an online class.

By U2B Staff 

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The permeation of technology into everyday life has made everything more accessible and efficient, and at reasonable cost.

In higher education, this has led to the growing popularity of online learning, a simple solution to the dichotomy faced by universities today: to grow enrolments and offer transformative learning options.

For many of the smaller schools, this is a zero-sum game; there’s just not enough room in the budget to spend on both marketing and recruitment campaigns, and hefty edtech upgrades. And when they’re faced with funding cuts and a clientele that’s much harder to please, it simply means they need to do more with less. 

Fortunately, online learning can help. And it’s becoming increasingly popular as confidence in its effectiveness continues to grow. Today, some 30 percent of those studying on campus take some kind of online class. And in the US, at least one in six students are enrolled exclusively online.

The result of increasing demand has seen a rush by universities to expand their online offerings to students. But to successfully launch a degree online, institutions need the right digital expertise and the funds to develop and market the programme, which Inside Higher Ed reports could cost upward of US$1 million each.


That’s where online programme management (OPM) firms come in. And with online learning becoming mainstream, the OPM market has exploded in recent years – there’s at least four, if not more, times the number of players in the market today when compared to 10 years ago. 

And from the previous revenue share models that lock in institutions for the long term, OPMs have now begun to introduce flexible fee-for-service options and short-term contracts to stay ahead in the game. 

Spring 2019 at NIU
Spring 2019 commencement at the Northern Illinois University. Source: Northern Illinois University.

It is for this reason that Northern Illinois University (NIU) this week announced a new partnership with Wiley Education Services, a division of Wiley, a global digital education solutions provider with 200 years of experience in the field.

According to NIU, Wiley was able to offer its complete menu of services on a fee-for-service arrangement. This flexibility is among Wiley’s most attractive offerings – the firm promises to tailor its services to meet the institution’s unique needs and objectives.

“We are a learning business, helping people across universities, libraries, societies, and corporations develop the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their full potential and succeed in an increasingly competitive and dynamic market.

“To reach this end, we offer a partnership unlike any other. We work closely with higher education institutions to develop tailored services and solutions that include strategic consultation, market strategy and research, marketing, program development and design, and institution-wide support, covering the entire student journey,” Wiley promises on its website.


Under the agreement, Wiley will support NIU with services in marketing, recruitment and enrollment and student retention. The university will also be given use of Wiley’s Ranku platform, a streamlined and searchable online presence, to support all online and hybrid programs. The contract will go on for an initial three years, with two one-year renewal options.

The first phase of the agreement will focus on the launch of six online programmes, namely: Master of Science in Digital Marketing, a Master of Science in Data Analytics, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing for RNs, a Master of Science in Nursing, a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Master of Public Health.

NIU’s expanded online presence is part of its five-year Strategic Enrollment Plan to attract and retain students.

The school’s administrators believe expanding the institution’s reach and quality through online programmes would be the catalyst for growth. But to this requires a partner with the right expertise and resources, and that was aligned with the school’s mission and values as a public institution.

Wiley, the school says, was the “only” higher education partner able to do that.

“NIU is committed to offering students an exceptional educational experience wherever they are. We’re investing in our online programs to best meet the needs of working professionals who want to broaden their career path,” says NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman.

“Wiley has the experience, strategy and tools to help us develop new audiences and offerings.”

NIU is a student-centered, nationally recognised public research university, with expertise in areas such as the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law.