The Emerging Program Pool: What You Need to Know Before Jumping In

February 24, 2020

The Emerging Program Pool: What You Need to Know Before Jumping In

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If you saw our recent webinar, 5 Emerging Programs for 2020, you know we have been thinking a lot about emerging programs. As a strategy consulting firm that focuses entirely on higher education, it is our duty to help our clients see what is coming. And we promise to share this crucial information here. We want you to have the latest information on the markets and margins for academic programs, so you can make the best program decisions for your school and mission.

First things first, what is an emerging program?

These are programs that are not yet in the traditional taxonomies that categorize programs or jobs. The government will catch up in five or ten years and have CIP and SOC codes for these. Right now they are not even coded and therefore not visible in education and employment datasets.

Emerging programs need a different kind of research. There are literally thousands, perhaps millions, of discoveries and new concepts out there in the world. You will find information about emergers in DARPA grants, venture capital funding, scientific and general press, and cutting-edge universities’ new program announcements. Often, related courses are first launched on MOOCs. The new classes and programs they are offering are full of fields that most people can not even imagine.

Do emerging programs make sense for you?

There are quite a few qualitative and quantitative factors to consider as you think through whether emerging programs are right for your institution. The first and most important question is: can your institution afford to be an early adopter? Can you take on the risk and the financial burden associated with moving early? People love to talk about first-mover advantage. But, economic and business history is full of dead first movers. Some bet on technology that never came to fruition, others invested before buyers were ready, and some just fumbled the ball. In education, program fads, like crime scene investigation, sometimes come and go leaving professors teaching a handful of students in expensive new facilities.

Pause and consider: Can you afford the risk and financial investment?

Can you afford to invest in an emerging program that does not actually emerge? If not, then wait and watch other early adopters to see what happens. Then make your play. As long as college continues to be a local game, you may be able to wait until a program is somewhat mature and it is clear that it is really something. Then make your investment and you will be fine.

Here’s an approach: Test the waters without making a big commitment

Another way to approach emerging programs is to dip your toe in the water without too much risk. Start by offering a class or two in an emerging field. If that works, combine the classes into a certificate and then a program. That allows you to see if there is really demand for it. This way you will have much less administrative burden, especially in terms of getting accreditation and legal approvals. This kind of experiment can give you presence and credibility in an emerging field with little financial investment.

Look before you leap: Answer all the hard questions

Emerging programs inherently have risk. To mitigate the risk, you absolutely need answers to all these questions and more. These are the top things you need to consider:

  • Timing: Is this particular field going to take off tomorrow or 10 years from now? Is anyone else offering it? How are they doing? Are local students or employers asking for it?
  • Mission: As always, mission is vital. Some of the areas we shared in our webinar may not be even close to your mission–though I do hope you will find a couple that fit.
  • Degree fit: Then ask yourself, is it the right degree level for your organization? For example, if you are a community college, chasing a program that requires a PhD is not worthwhile.
  • Earning potential: Will graduates get paid enough money when they get through?
  • Start-up considerations: Realistically, how hard will the program be to get off the ground?
  • Faculty: Can you find qualified faculty? They may be rare and highly sought after in emerging fields like data science.
  • Money: Where will you find the money for an emerging program? Will donors fund it? Or can you realistically expect tuition to be sufficient to pay for the program?

My belief is that every higher ed institution needs to be aware of what is happening in the emerging program space. Even if you are not an early adopter, you owe it to your students to stay ahead of the game. That way, when the time and fit is right, you can offer what they will need in this ever-changing world.

So where to begin with all this? Watch the whole 5 Emerging Programs for 2020 webinar now. You will get an in-depth analysis of five different emerging programs and which institutions are early adopters. Ready for an even deeper dive into any of this? Let us know. We would be glad to discuss which programs might be a fit at your institution–or find others that will fit. After all, the five we shared on the webinar are just the tip of a very large iceberg.

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Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. provides the best available data, software, and facilitated processes to help higher education institutions make high-stakes decisions regarding academic programs, pricing, and locations.

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Gray Associates, Inc. is a software and services firm focused on higher education. We help education clients develop fact-based institutional and marketing strategies that maximize outcomes for students, the school, and its constituencies.

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