Online Education

Understanding Demand For An Online Degree Program Through a Market Feasibility Study

By October 26, 2015 No Comments

During the presidential debates, many candidates have decided to dedicate a substantial amount of their talking points to addressing the state of the higher education industry. While it is true that the percentage of Americans enrolling in postsecondary education has never been higher, the combination of inefficiencies within universities as well as slashed state and federal funding has left many students and institutions riddled with debt. President Obama and the more progressive presidential candidates have proposed expensive initiatives to make college more affordable and potentially free for all students, and the more conservative candidates envision legislation that will penalize universities that charge exorbitant tuition rates. It is clear, regardless of an individual’s political preference, something has to be done to reign in university spending and introduce processes that will help universities to run more efficiently.
One area where universities can improve their processes is when and if they choose to create new program offerings. Universities decide to move forward with introducing new traditional and online programs for a variety of reasons, but proof of program demand through concrete data as well as market competition are two elements that are surprisingly overlooked. Many higher education institutions will simply introduce a new on-campus program because they have the resources in place, or introduce an on-campus program online simply because it does well on campus, but a market feasibility study should be introduced to make certain that there is a place within the marketplace for the program while at the same time ensuring that graduates can acquire professional positions.
A market feasibility study is an analysis into current and future degree program offerings with a focus on the viability of the program within the marketplace. This study consists of an analysis into program demand and competition, as well as an examination into current career data and future projections. Market feasibility takes the approach of examining program opportunity both before and after student enrollment: key indicators as to whether a program can turn a profit for the university while also positioning its students for future success. The aim is to provide concrete data through an analysis into search volume and market metrics, which are key indicators of program demand. The study provides the university with further insight into demand and costs associated with effectively marketing the program. Understanding the costs to compete is instrumental, and, coupled with insight into other expenses, universities can understand how to price a program.
Introducing a program that focuses on turning a profit for the institution is important, but making sure that the programs they are offering are setting their graduates up for success in the marketplace is essential to credibility and continued funding. A market feasibility study pulls projections from a variety of different career-related sources and can be helpful in providing an ROI calculation for universities and potential students. By researching and providing this information to potential students, an advanced degree can look more like a long-term investment that has a break-even point rather than an ambiguous venture, which could lead to future financial instability.
One of the areas that has been identified as a major factor responsible for increased university costs is an influx of administrators. Many of these administrators are responsible for ensuring program success, and marketing the programs as well as driving student enrollments can fall under their job descriptions. By ensuring that any existing or new programs that are introduced are in demand by students, a university can save costs both on the payroll side and when it comes to a program’s marketing budget, as costs to enroll a student will be much lower.  
A high loan default rate on federal student loans by program graduates can also raise red flags for a university. A program that enrolls students without taking into consideration career opportunities for graduates can put the university at risk of sanctions when it comes to federal student loans. As many potential students don’t have the cash up front to pay for a full degree program, enrolling students without the use of federal loans can be very challenging for a university.
A market feasibility study can be a step in the right direction for universities looking to balance their costs and position their graduates for success. While the trajectory of higher education does at times look grim, an opportunity exists for many programs to separate themselves from the pack and set themselves up for long-term success. The following article by Dr. Scott Levine helps to shine some light into what specific attributes point to program success, which can be a great first step in completing a program audit: http://circaedu.com/hemj/seven-attributes-highly-effective-online-degrees/
Robert LeeRobert offers a decade of demonstrated digital marketing expertise, and he has provided results to clients both within and outside of higher education while working as an analyst, team lead, and director. He has planned and implemented digital marketing campaigns for a number of large universities throughout the United States, and he leads Circa on all aspects of client strategy. Before founding Circa Interactive, Robert led digital marketing teams at the higher education organization Embanet.

  • Join the
    Higher Ed Marketing
    Journal Newsletter.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.