We invited Paul Bolton, Director of Adult Enrollment at Spalding University, and host of the podcast, “Reboot, 21st Century Enrollment Management” to join us on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss all the steps necessary to successfully launch a new program at your institution.
How to Gauge Market Demand and Student Interest
Demand is a key indicator of your prospective program’s success.
Spalding is launching new programs into a world where demand is constantly changing. “It’s kind of like those commercials that you used to see,” Paul said, “where the guy would leave with a new TV and then next thing you know the neighbor’s got the brand new one. So I think we’re all looking at each other, too, university to university, going, ‘Hey, look at that academic program. Why don’t we have that?”
But in each part of the United States, there’s going to be specific niches each university can fit. The key element to finding those is bringing the stakeholders within your university together – program chairs, provosts, and the president. Collectively, this group can find the overlap between what the university has and what does not exist in its local area.
“Not so long ago,” Paul said, “I was speaking to a group about developing certificate programs. And I shared with them that a certificate program is only as valuable as the organization puts value into it.”
Only if the whole university embraces the idea, even helps build it using existing curriculum, that’s something you could put a value on.
“Really, it’s all about the delivery,” Paul said, “Not just the seated delivery versus online, but how it’s delivered to the community and who’s embracing it, and who is part of the process.”
That’s how you develop stakeholders within the university and within the community. And that pipeline you’re trying to develop? Now, you’re grounding it in concrete instead of sand.
How to Build a Pipeline in Advance of a New Program Launch
“If you’re going to launch a new, amazing program and the pipeline isn’t considered …” Paul shook his head.
Just like a great ad or a postcard drop won’t bring people flocking through your university’s doors, neither will a program’s mere existence attract students.
“It’s all in the pre-work,” Paul told us, “and the pipeline.”
Fortunately, technology helps mitigate risk. If farmers can use AI to predict the best time to grow a crop, higher ed institutions can do the same thing and use technology to see if there even is a pipeline.
According to Paul, that should be part of your discussion with marketing – gauging interest through a pre-launch, testing the pipeline, and finding out what is actually out there before launching a new program.
“You might decide that this isn’t going to work,” Paul said, “I’d rather find out then than during registration.”
Approach External Partnerships that Create Feeder Streams
Before you go public, create what your advancement office would call a silent campaign.
“You want to make sure this is going to be successful,” Paul said, “and you’re almost giving yourself an opportunity with local entities that are involved with your university or want to be involved in your university.”
Basically, you’re loading the pipeline. Find out what organizations have an interest in your proposed program or which ones will connect you with other resources. Then, look within the university and see who has those relationships.
Think about your Board of Trustees and other local leaders committed to your school’s success. Where are they working? What kind of introductions can they make for the enrollment or marketing team? What do they want their employees to have that they’re currently not getting and you can provide?
“I think you go in there,” Paul told us, “with existing curriculums so you’re not reinventing the wheel. These are the classes that we already have, and you can really take an interdisciplinary kind of approach that we can successfully build a leadership certificate program or degree for leadership in non-profit organizations.”
Then your external partners become stakeholders and then that’s a sustained pipeline. You leverage the success of your first venture to create other opportunities.
Next Steps Advice for Institutions Launching New Programs
“Get involved in the community and leave the university,” Paul said.
If you can’t engage in your community yourself, find those people on campus who already connected locally. Ask them for introductions. Do more networking.
“A lot of the decisions and anecdotal views that we have need to also be backed by data,” Paul said, “so just as if we were going to be launching a brand new tangible product we’d want to test the market, we want to do the same for an academic program.”
That means deciding what the delivery system is going to look like. Is it going to be seated or online? And, even more importantly, who are the major stakeholders or the major decision-makers that need to be involved here at the university?
Ask yourself who needs to be involved in this process so when that pipeline is built, it’s a seamless process.
“The on-boarding of the new professional student into a new academic program,” Paul said, “it needs to be a fine-tuned process that’s had testing on demand and then also university-wide buy-in and support.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.