For decades, new program development has been a cornerstone of colleges’ and universities’ strategic plans to increase enrollments and fuel revenue growth. In the past, a wide range of program opportunities and relatively little competition existed, but today, institutions are launching more programs than ever. Institutions struggle to differentiate their new program offerings from competitors—and prospective students are increasingly more skeptical about program outcomes. As a result, the supply of programs in some areas is outpacing degree conferrals.
The information that institutions need to successfully identify and launch programs has become increasingly complex in recent years. COE leaders can no longer rely solely on a few entrepreneurial faculty members to submit new program ideas. Today’s COE leaders must take a disciplined look at their entire program portfolio—graduate and undergraduate—using objective data from third party sources in conjunction with internal expertise.
To identify successful programs for launch, COE leaders need a deep understanding of the regional labor market and the professional skills and competencies that are most in demand. This labor market information is not only critical to new program development, but should be at the center of informing efforts to refresh or overhaul existing programs that are struggling to meet student and employer needs.
Get the most recent labor demand market data for your state
To create a holistic understanding of new opportunities for program development, quantitative labor market data should be coupled with a number of qualitative factors. These include insights from:
- Employers about how to best prepare students for professional success
- An assessment of prospective students’ needs with regards to program accommodations and employment outcomes
- The institution’s own strategic priorities
- Existing capacity to launch or refresh programs
Avoid “profitless growth” and other program launch pitfalls
Simply launching new programs to meet growth mandates set by institutional strategic plans or dean leadership has become an impractical and unsustainable solution to a much more complex problem. To fuel sustainable growth over the long term, COE leaders should carefully examine their existing portfolios of programs to identify gaps between current program performance and enrollment and revenue goals. Administrators should pinpoint programs that are not meeting expected outcomes to avoid wasting significant portions of already slim budgets on programs that suffer perennially low enrollments or “profitless growth.”
Programs in the health professions, particularly clinical programs like nursing, speech language pathology, and occupational and physical therapy, are a common profitless growth trap for institutions hoping to capitalize on large and growing employer demand.
Before launching new programs in these areas, administrators should carefully consider the following risks:
- The high upfront and ongoing overhead costs required to purchase medical and training equipment like simulation manikins.
- Health program faculty requires offering a high salary to attract individuals away from lucrative careers in industry.
- Increasing the number of students in the program consequently increases the costs required to run the program.
- Strong competition for clinical placements creates a de facto enrollment cap for programs that require such placements for accreditation.
Program planning solution: Opportunity analyses across the portfolio
Provosts, deans, and program directors must understand the specific institutional goals they are being asked to support (e.g., revenue growth, enrollment growth), and develop strategies based on those goals. Developing and launching new programs to grow revenue may not always be right answer. Institutions will see significant revenue gains and cost savings by scaling back marketing investment in programs that have reached capacity to grow, and reinvesting in programs that are underserving student and employer demand.
While EAB’s COE Forum has long supported the membership’s need for actionable labor market intelligence to inform single program development and launch, our research team is honing its ability to conduct in-depth assessments of program portfolios across an entire unit, school, or even institution. Our consulting engagements are tailored to the specific member’s needs. The forum can identify existing programs that have strong growth potential and programs that should be reexamined or sunset, opportunities to strategically develop and launch new programs, and detailed implementation and operations guidance for new program recommendations to shorten time to program approval and launch.
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