Expanding into New Markets with Research: Why and How?

By Scott Jeffe, RNL October 21, 2019 May 11th, 2021 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

This blog post is provided by AGB’s Sustaining Champion, RNL.

It has never been more important for institutions to ensure that their programming meets the needs of today’s students. Market forces are creating unparalleled competition, and the institutions that thrive will be those that have their “ear to the ground” and offer the programs that students want in the formats in which they need them.

Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Education reports that there are 1 million fewer students enrolled in our colleges and universities. There are 6 percent more graduate students (190,000), but 8 percent more institutions offering grad programs (167). Within the same period, online enrollment has grown from 11 percent to 16 percent and is projected to grow to 18 percent by fall 2020. Undergraduates 25 years of age and older are projected to grow by as much as 11 percent.

These are pockets of growth in a market that is stagnant overall. Today’s students, whether they are boomers searching for an encore career, Xers knowing they need to brush up on their skills to remain employable longer into their middle years, millennials who realize that their chosen degree field isn’t paying the bills, or Yers who are more concerned than all before them about the “return on investment” have one thing in common: job/career relevance.

What should institutions be considering when they assess new program ideas?

  1. The recent enrollment trajectory of the program area among institutions similar to theirs.
  2. Occupational projections over the next decade.
  3. Annual openings each year typically filled by people with that degree subject and level (with an eye for programs that are NOT overproducing graduates like the MBA market found in almost every region of the country).
  4. The skills that are of greatest interest to employers as they search for new employees.

The good news is that all of these factors are out there. You just need to know where to look and how to interpret them. Then you need to move quickly to implement the good ideas and have some threshold for risk. New program areas—for example, cybersecurity, business analytics, and AI—are often dominated by a small number of nimble institutions that get their programs to market more quickly than most, thereby starving those whose processes take longer to implement.

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