When planning your institutional expansion, shoot for the moon… by way of your actual market.

Here’s a striking truth: Your online programs don’t immediately open you up to a share of the national education market. While the introduction of the online learning modality has opened higher ed up to serving a wider variety of students, online education should not be viewed as a field of dreams for those wishing to draw more students from far-off places. Institutions committed to increasing their enrollments by expanding their reach most often have more luck with a regional expansion plan. Yet which regional locations should you spread to? To build a truly data-driven plan for market expansion,  evaluate the demographic and psychographic information for your current student body, then find similar areas near you that both feature similar demographics and limited competition in your specific strengths.


To easily identify new potential students, look no further than the demographics of your current student body. Data points related to age, race, income, and place of residence may hold key insights into which geographic areas may appeal to similar prospects. Additionally, post-traditional learners are particularly inclined toward online offerings, so finding areas that both fit the demographic profile for the post-traditional learner and don’t currently have a saturated market for online education can unveil future opportunities. Demographic information for potential new markets can be obtained through the US Census Bureau.


In addition to demographic information, psychographic information can help identify potential new markets. Data points related to lifestyle, interests, and preference all make up a demographic profile, and this information becomes particularly poignant if your institution fills a particular psychographic niche. Perhaps you’re located in an outdoorsy area and offer a wide variety of biological and environmental programs. Perhaps you’re a religious college offering a faith-based approach to learning. Incorporating psychographic research into your market research will help you appeal to students who are in the market for what you’re offering. Psychographic information can be obtained through primary research (surveys that target the potential new market) or various market research reports like Mintel Academic.

Limit your Competition

Once you’ve identified potential expansion locales, determine the level of competition for your particular brand of education. If you’re a faith-based school looking to move into a community already saturated with faith-based institutions, you might try your luck in a different community with limited religious offerings. If you’re a mid-sized private liberal arts school with a particular strength in nursing and biotech, ensure the surrounding institutions in the nearby area don’t also speak to these particular selling points.
By combining demographic and psychographic research with competitive analysis for a particular market area, you can effectively and strategically identify potential opportunities for expansion. Initial research and due diligence when expanding your presence will bring your institution better initial lead volume as well as retention over the long haul. By conducting due diligence when planning your geographical stretch, you can further encourage the right demographic of student to come that is more likely to complete their education.  

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.