With the growth of online learning, many colleges are now taking steps to build online programs. Even before the pandemic, face-to-face attendance was decreasing. Meanwhile, the enrollment for online courses indicated a positive gain. Yet again, college enrollment has dropped. Some causes have been students dropping out because of mental stress. High tuition costs create another barrier for students not to enroll in a college program because they fear student loan debt. Higher-ed leaders can review these 4 critical considerations when creating online college programs.
1.) Complete The Market Research When Building Online Programs
Before developing a new online program, leaders commit to market research. The demographics have changed for students who are seeking a degree. Adult learners, students who are 25 years and older, have increased. Because of the pandemic, many students put off entering college. Many students desire short-term programs—quick-qualifying credentials and not a pricey, long-term program. Thus, leaders should meet with their marketing team. Think about the messaging needed to attract different groups to the online program. How will the online program be marketed? Various teams meet and brainstorm about a college’s current offerings, thinking about the features and benefits. Teams develop strategies to tailor the ongoing programs to different demographics. College leaders drive the program development with clear market research.
2.) Build Effective Benchmarks for Developing Online Programs, yet be Mindful
Thus, leaders examine their courses against the competition when developing an online program. Benchmarking helps colleges to compare their classes to other colleges with similar programs. Besides that, the benchmark creates an oranges-to-oranges comparison. The health check scrutinizes the performance of a college’s programs. Moreover, it identifies areas to improve and limitations. It shows an institution’s truths. Yet, college leaders must be wary of their competition when comparing. The competition might have not completed market research for their courses. They could have ignored how college demographics have changed. Therefore, leaders and their committees verify the metrics, ensuring the success of their online programs.
“…presidents disengage and turn execution over to their provost’s office and move onto the next big thing.”
3.) College Leaders Set Up Clear Communications for Their Stakeholders
Once a college board of directors approves an online program, keeping the line of communication remains problematic. “…presidents disengage and turn execution over to their provost’s office and move onto the next big thing.” Thus, leadership maintains communication among the leaders as the different teams develop the online program. Moreover, leaders engage the faculty early. Because the faculty were unaware of the online program’s development, they voted “no” to the program’s proposal. Being proactive, leaders develop focus groups with faculty about the best elements to include. Besides that, online programs are often paired with new course development instead of the current college curriculum. The lack of communication causes a blame game amongst different college departments when the online program development fails. The program cannot attract and keep students. Therefore, leaders and their teams ensure abreast and fluent communication for their stakeholders to prevent problems.
4.) Will These Online Programs Make Money?
Most importantly, the rolling out of a new online program should be profitable for the college. A new online program must produce three times the costs to make a profit. Yet, profits decline when the college tries to fit a standard. Some college leaders desire to maintain “an image” for their college and not rely on market research to create an effective program. Thus, the program fails, not attracting enough students. Because costs range from 65K to the mid-six figures, to create online programs, colleges face a risky situation. Thus, college leaders review the finances and understand how the online program can be profitable.
In conclusion, starting college online programs sparks many barriers. College leaders need to maintain clear communications, especially within leadership. Early faculty involvement eliminates situations down the line like a “thumbs down” for an online program. Colleges benchmark their online program against their competition. Yet, they should be mindful that a college’s competition might have not completed the market research. With market research, college leaders should understand students have changed. Colleges will need or need to tailor their courses to different demographics despite their traditional aura. College enrollment has been declining. Therefore, college leaders think about various ways to tailor programs for an online program to remain profitable.