A New Model of Higher Education in the Age of Emerging Models

Historically, colleges and universities, regardless of their mission, were private or public. Later, for-profit higher education emerged as an alternative model.  Although institutions invested in new formats and modalities – such as extended-campuses, weekend and night formats and mini-courses – colleges and universities were largely private, public or for-profit.

As distance and online learning grew in utilization, new models developed. Some private and public institutions operated online programs entirely in-house, while others partnered for limited services through learning platform providers.

There are essentially three major emerging models of higher education in the era of online learning:

  1. Private-Private models, where private colleges and universities partner with a private and almost always for-profit Online Program Manager (OPM).
  2. Public-Private models, where public colleges and universities partner with a private and almost always for-profit OPM.
  3. Consortiums, which share online courses among different, and sometimes competing, colleges and universities but are usually “powered” by a for-profit OPM.

Recently Northcentral University partnered with National Education Partners, and the National University System, to create a fourth emerging model. This model is where NCU, a private non-profit university, affiliates with National University System, a non-profit university system, and utilizes their OPM, National Education Partners. The difference is that the oversight of the OPM is a non-profit educational institution.

Northcentral University is a private, non-profit, 501c3 who partners with National Education Partners. What makes this model unique is that National Education Partners is owned by the non-profit National University System, of which Northcentral University is an affiliated university. To simplify an explanation of this new emerging model, Northcentral University and National Education Partners are both affiliated with the same parent entity. Northcentral University is governed by a Board of Trustees. National Education Partners is governed by a Board of Directors. Both Northcentral University and National Education Partners are affiliated with the National University System.

This new emerging model has the potential to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the historical tension between the missions of the non-profit institution and the expected investor outcomes of a for-profit OPM. In addition, the flat fee, cost plus model reduces the motivation of a for-profit OPM attempting to dictate policy or operational decisions to the non-profit University. The NCU-NEP relationship is based on specific accreditation standards as to what is appropriate to outsource and what is core to a University’s academic mission that should be provided through internal resources. To ensure oversight, in this model, the University has negotiated “service-level agreements” for those services outsourced and a systematic approach to oversight of those services as stated in a Masters Services Agreement. The intent of this alternative model is to ensure the university mission is paramount in all decisions impacting Northcentral University and that all decisions made by the Board of Trustees are in the “best interest” of the University.