Read more about the article A Cure for Declining Enrollment: Launching the Right New Programs
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A Cure for Declining Enrollment: Launching the Right New Programs

Six in 10 respondents to Inside Higher Education’s 2017 Survey of Community College Presidents reported declining enrollment, with 21 percent saying enrollment losses were 10 percent or more.  In addition, many state governments are reducing funding.  The combination is forcing cuts in college budgets that were already tight.

Can new programs restore growth and relieve the strain on budgets?  If so, how can colleges fund these new programs when budgets are so tight?  One answer lies in data-driven program portfolio analysis. Well-chosen new programs can significantly increase enrollment and tuition.  Cutting a few failing programs can free-up the money needed to fund new programs.  But making the right choices of programs to launch and cut requires a wide array of market data, a formal rubric for evaluating it, and a sound process that uses institutional knowledge and builds consensus on challenging program decisions.

This work starts with defining the market or markets the school serves.  Analyzing students’ home addresses can help schools define the geographic market(s) from which they actually draw students.  Once the market is defined, there are four broad types of external data schools should gather, all of which are included in Gray’s Program Evaluation System.

Student Demand:  There are several sources of data on student interest in academic programs, each of which has strengths and weaknesses.  IPEDS1 is the most common and most comprehensive source.  IPEDS also provides a taxonomy for almost all programs (CIP2 codes).  Unfortunately, IPEDS is a very dated measure of demand:  it reports completions, which occur years after students make their college decisions.  While difficult to obtain for a large number of programs, current Google search data can be pulled for specific programs.  Finally, Gray offers a database of actual student inquiries, which is a good current indicator for online and trades-oriented programs.

Employment Trends:  What is the job market for graduates of a program?  How large is it?  How fast is it likely to grow?  What kind of salaries can people entering the field expect?  Much of this data is available through the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook.  This information is also a little dated, since it uses survey data collected in the year before the jobs data is released.  More important, the forecasts of employment growth are not accurate.  85% of these estimates miss the actual growth rate by 50% or more.  To get more current and detailed data, colleges can use information on actual job postings from several sources, including Burning Glass Technologies.  Many schools are also required to post disclosures on their websites of actual placement rates by program.  These disclosures provide a direct observation on colleges’ ability to place graduates in a specific market and program.  We recommend using all three sources to get a complete picture on employment trends and opportunities for your graduates.

Competition:  How many schools in a market offer a particular program?  How large are their programs? How recently were they launched?  Is the marketplace saturated?  Answers to these questions can help an institution decide whether there is an opportunity to launch a new program and what to do with existing programs that have limited appeal.  IPEDS completions provide a very complete list of competitors and their size (number of completions).  To judge saturation, you may wish to look at completions per capita, trends in completions, and Google’s competitive index.

Strategic fit:  How well does the level of the degree offered match employers’ requirements?  It makes little sense to offer an associate’s degree in a field of study where entry-level jobs call for a master’s degree.  Two sources cover this topic:  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and IPEDS.  BLS tracks the education level of people in the workforce, so you can see what degree employers want.  IPEDS gives good data on the degree level students usually achieve in each field.  This combination allows community colleges to choose programs that align with the degree levels they offer.

Once this data is assembled, you will have dozens of metrics to consider for each program and market.  Now you will need a scoring rubric to evaluate the metrics and rank programs.  This rubric should reflect your institution’s strategic goals.  For example, an institution looking to differentiate itself might give greater weighting to competitive factors.  It is also important that faculty (usually Deans) and other constituencies review and refine the rubric, so they support and use the results in their decision-making.


Continue ReadingA Cure for Declining Enrollment: Launching the Right New Programs
Read more about the article Inquiry Volume for Online Programs Fell 11 Percent for July, Gray Associates Reports; Drop is First Since June 2016
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Inquiry Volume for Online Programs Fell 11 Percent for July, Gray Associates Reports; Drop is First Since June 2016

In July, student demand for online programs continued to grow, but the growth story became more complex.  Inquiries1 for online programs fell in July, but the number of inquiries that…

Continue ReadingInquiry Volume for Online Programs Fell 11 Percent for July, Gray Associates Reports; Drop is First Since June 2016
Read more about the article 2017 July GrayReports – Student and Employer Demand Trends
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2017 July GrayReports – Student and Employer Demand Trends

Every month, Gray releases the latest student and employer demand trends in higher education.  Here are a few of the trends from July of 2017 that we released in August:Overall…

Continue Reading2017 July GrayReports – Student and Employer Demand Trends