The hidden secret to program expansion: Offering programs students actually want

Deciding whether to develop a new program? If you’re first determining program viability by looking to job outlook in the program’s given field, you might be setting yourself up for failure.

When setting out to develop a new program, the motivation is undoubtedly based on a desire to fill a hole in the market. New programs are most often based on advances in field/industry knowledge, fluctuations in markets and industries, and expertise of presiding faculty. Yet for those who are willing to navigate this often arduous and lengthy endeavor through catacombs of approvals from the department, provost’s office, registrar’s office, accrediting bodies and so forth, the effort becomes moot when enrollments don’t roll in at the end of it. Therefore, before you look to the job outlook for the field, first consider market demand.

The rationale for this advice is simple: Employer demand for graduates ≠ program demand for students. While job outlook will be an important aspect of program research, this data point only tells you the market demand for “theoretical” graduates, not whether or not those students are actually interested in the program in the first place. Often, the sweet spot for new programs lies in the nexus between program demand and job outlook. However, it is essential to place equal weight on both job potential and consumer demand.

So how do you determine market demand for new potential programs? One of the easiest places to start is Google, through both Google Trends and Google AdWords: Keyword Planner. Search for answers to the following questions:

  •         How much traffic has that category of program search terms seen?
  •         How much traffic has that category of program search terms seen specifically in your region?
  •         How competitive is the paid search market for these terms?
  •         How are these search terms trending?

By doing due diligence to understand demand potential, you can get a good preliminary understanding if a new program will have an uphill battle or if you may have struck a hidden and golden opportunity. Once you have a solid idea of how the program may perform in the market, you can more confidently start planning curriculum, assessing resources, and seeking necessary approvals. And if you decide not to fully develop the new program, you can always consider program concentrations. 

To learn more about how programmatic expansion fits into your larger enrollment growth goals, download our free Enrollment Growth Playbook.

Michele Bates

With a rich media background in print, digital, and TV, Michele advances data-driven brand strategies as Director of Marketing Strategy and Research. She acts as the voice of the customer to guide brand research, audience analysis, creative messaging, and overall strategic marketing. Michele holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and Madison and has worked in upper-level management roles for more than 20 years. She is notably fond of cheesy 80s movies, giant game nights with friends, loud belly laughs, and her 3 kiddos.