Are you customizing your programs for the right segments of working professionals?

By Jennifer Mason

Everyone knows that if you want to grow graduate enrollments, you've got to create programs tailored to working professionals. But "working professionals" aren't a single group with the same priorities.

To make more strategic choices about program offerings and formats, first think about the professional audience as separate segments defined by whether their academic background is in a related or unrelated field and whether their goal is to advance in their current field or enter a new one.

Using these dimensions, we can map the audience for graduate study into the four segments of career starters, career advancers, career changers and career crossers, each of which prioritizes different program formats and amenities.

Designing programs to serve distinct market segments

Making the right trade offs

Understanding which segment of working professionals a program serves helps you make the right tradeoffs in program design. This is critical since many of the features that increase the ease and value of a degree exist in at least modest tension with another feature.

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For example, part-time programs with flexible delivery require longer time-to-completion; accelerated programs offer less flexibility in delivery. Administrators who know their target segment can make more strategic decisions about what to invest in and what to sacrifice.

Common attributes of effectively designed programs

Reaching new student segments

Additionally, thinking about the segments your existing programs serve can help you identify new growth opportunities. As demand for historically popular graduate degrees begins to lag, units can grow enrollments by creating programs that serve a student segment other than that of the flagship program.

The JD, for example, serves career starters. Faced with declining applications for the JD, law schools are offering increasing numbers of programs that serve career advancers (practicing lawyers seeking in-depth training in areas such as employee benefits or international law) and career crossers (professionals from other fields who need specialized legal knowledge). Examples here include the master of studies in law for health science professionals.

Specialized Programs Move Beyond Segment Field Has Traditionally Served

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