New Degree Programs: What You Must Learn from Google, Amazon and Apple
Mar 05, 2017
My first Monday Leadership Meeting ended with several program directors and deans tossing out some “rough ideas” that they had developed for new programs. It was mostly program names without any details.
“Graduate degree in data analytics!”
“Bachelor’s in police science.”
At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on, but the person sitting next to me took notice of the confused look on my face and was kind enough to lean over and whisper “…these are their new program ideas…”
Right away, I knew this couldn’t be allowed to continue. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm there but it wasn’t focused on anything more than “…hope this program name catches someone’s attention…” And that was going to lead to a lot of wasted energy, effort and other limited resources.
So, after the meeting, I designed the following process for identifying opportunities and determining if those ideas had the potential to generate acceptable levels of enrollments and revenue. (Additionally, I designed a marketing research plan for gathering information that the deans and program managers could use to focus their energy but the first step was to get them following the same process so we’re were going on more than “…sounds great, let’s chase that shiny object!”
Less than half of respondents have a formalized system in place to determine which new programs are developed. Source: The Data Driven State of Higher Ed Decision Making
Here’s what works – feel free to put it to use for your institution. And feel free to make modifications that help improve performance for you because, hey, everyone has unique needs.
Step 1: Vision
What’s your institution’s vision? To be the world’s greatest engineering college or the best liberal arts college?
The reason you start here is because you want to make sure the ideas being put forth for consideration support the vision. For example, the “world’s greatest engineering college” should have a long discussion about a proposal to add a theatre program or a fine arts program because those are not, typically, engineering related.
The other reasons is that your institution currently serves specific audiences that want and/or need your offerings in certain areas- engineering, business, education, nursing etc. And your institution doesn’t serve specific audiences that want/need offerings in certain areas that you don’t have current programs – perhaps fine arts, performing arts, journalism etc.
By all accounts, Google Glass failed to gain commercial success. Just to be clear, Google Glass didn't fail because of the technology, rather because it wasn't clear to the customer what problem it solved or why they needed it. Source: Why Google Glass Failed and Why Apple Watch Could Too
Note: The marketing research plan I mentioned earlier – it was focused on Steps 2 through Step 7. We would perform certain primary and secondary research efforts aimed at gathering insights in these areas so we could then come back to the deans and program directors with opportunities we identified so they could develop solutions/new programs based on what we found.
Step 2: Who is your target audience and what does your audience want and/or need?
The problem with many new program development processes is that they fail to take the target audience into account at the start, if at all. Remember that the program will be in response to a need in the market – and that’s going to include your audience as well as (see the next step) the competition.
It’s easier to develop a solution for a problem than find a problem that matches your “solution”. A key lesson from Google Glass!
With your target audience, the goal here is to understand how many have an unmet or under-served want or need. This allows you to address [a] what might the program address and [b] are there enough people with that want/need to support the program. And when it comes to “sizing the market demand”, look at historical and current size so you can estimate future size – because you ideally want a large audience that’s growing versus a small audience that’s shrinking.
Step 3: How is the competition addressing this want and/or need?
Next, take a look at your competition – primary, secondary and tertiary. Are they addressing this need? How? With what results? If not, why?
Look at those institutions you compete with regularly all the way down to organizations that offer similar programs and might enter this space at some point in the future. For example, here in Maryland, there are several colleges with theatre departments (primary). There are several targeting Maryland with part-time/evening/weekend/online programs in nearby states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia) that could be considered secondary competition. And then there are local programs offered by theatres that could fill a smaller want/need (stage management certificate vs. bachelor’s in theatre management).
You want to understand what they offer, how they deliver the offering, costs as well as pricing, enrollments as well as retention and graduation rates. You want to know about the faculty – their education, experience, workload, training and development etc. And you want to know about the leaderships commitment to the program – is this something that they consider critical to the institution or something that could go away tomorrow and not impact their lives.
From this, you get an understanding of what’s out there (so you can look for unmet or under-served wants and needs), how it came to be (how long to develop, performance), reputation and other key factors.
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Step 4: What does the market want and/or need?
Next, it’s time to speak with those that employ those with the skills your proposed new program will serve and find out what they want and need today and in the foreseeable future from someone that has successfully completed your program.
How do they perceive your institution in terms of being able to consistently produce high quality graduates of the program? What do they expect “high quality graduates of the program” to be able to do upon graduation? What do they feel your new program must address so graduates are ready to “hit the ground running” upon completion of the program?
And keep in mind that these are the people you want to get involved as subject matter experts in developing the curriculum, teaching courses, sponsoring internships and living case studies – as well as hiring and employing students and graduates!
Step 5: What is the unmet or under-served want and/or need?
After speaking with your target audience, analyzing the competition and gathering insight from those relevant members of the market, you need to start putting together the concept of a unique, valuable program that you can consistently bring to life, your audience wants, your competition cannot replicate and the market wants and needs.
If you ever find yourself looking at your competitor’s courses and learning outcomes, and considering that as a part of your own offering…stop. Take a break. Go for a walk and reset your brain.
Your goal here is to be uniquely valuable, not one of many offering the same thing. That’s what’s wrong with most MBA programs. They have the same courses – and the only difference is if the term length is 6-weeks, 8-weeks or 15-weeks.
Oh, and they compete on price too!
What you really want to do here is get away from “How much and how long”- the two most common questions asked by adult students – and address “…this is what the industry leaders are looking for, and our program is the only one offering that because we worked with them to build it into our program and have their executives teach the courses….”
Step 6: How can you consistently deliver a unique, valuable solution for the unmet and/or under-served want and/or need?
This is an important question because too many colleges look at the program development process as “Get it done, launched and see you in 5-years when we review the curriculum”
We suggest that this is an on-going part of the program and something you need to discuss at this point in the process so that you build it into the costs you need to cover.
Does the program/area of focus warrant semi-annual or annual review and possible modification?
What about the faculty – what background, education and experience must they have to help deliver that unique value? And what must they do to continue to add value over time? Research and publish? Consult? Speak?
What about facilities – what do the classrooms need in order to ensure a unique, valuable learning experience? What about the online component? Same for learning materials – are you going to rely on an existing text or texts? Or will you develop your own?
Step 7: Market Sizing, Revenue Projection
Have a detailed description of your target audience is good…having an estimated size of that audience is great. Are there enough people meeting your definition of the target audience within 10, 15, 20 miles of campus? How many and where are they – and are they increasing in numbers or decreasing.
This requires some research and then a process for calculating the size.
Some of the sources we use include Department of Labor Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, annual reports, E-Campus News, Eduventures, Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers Online, institutional sales and marketing collateral including their website, educational associations and organizations, industry publications and other government agencies.
When sizing the consumer market, we like to use services such as Claritas PRIZM clusters for segmentation as well as sizing the market and locating them in the U.S. By locating them, down to the household level, we can begin to project revenue based on [ex] primary market (with # miles of campus), secondary markets (possibly an extended range around campus or specific markets around the U.S.).
Based on the performance of competitors, and the size of the market, we can then calculate a low-medium-high range for enrollments and revenue. And this helps drive budgeting – from staffing and equipment and curriculum development to promotional efforts.
Step 8: Go/No Go
At this point, it’s time to make the “Do we go or do we pass” decision. You’ve invested some resources but nothing close to what you could have invested if you just went straight ahead into developing the program once someone vocalized the idea.
Remember the could be a third option here – the “are there other viable options that we’re overlooking” option. This may not be appropriate in all situations but remember to keep your eyes and ears open throughout the entire process because you might pick up some information that turns out to be a greater opportunity than the original new program concept.
Again, this process needs to be mapped out from the start so there are no surprises and so emotions (and politics) don’t have an undue impact on the decision making. We recommend scorecards with very specific criteria that must be met or the program gets a “No Go”.
Step 9: Develop it
Some look at the development process as “…we got approval, now let’s put our heads down and build this thing…” We recommend a more “…heads up, eyes open…” approach that allows you to take new developments into consideration.
For example, new research impacting the field. New technology impacting the delivery – and development – of the curriculum. New laws/rules/regulations that impact what you can or cannot do in a degree program in order to remain accredited. Competitive changes such as a new competitor entering the market or mergers/acquisitions or even a competitor closing its doors.
Step 10: Test it
This tends to be one of the most overlooked aspects of new program development and the reason for this tends to be money.
Know, this might not be the best name for the step but here’s the reason this step is important.
A great many colleges start the process off with a meeting to layout what the program and courses will be – and then marketing and enrollment start promoting the program and speaking with potential students.
But curriculum development realizes that what was discussed in that first meeting cannot be produced with the approved budget – so they make changes and cuts to what was originally laid out. And those changes are never consistently communicated to marketing and enrollment so they continue to promote and discuss something that will not be.
Then there is the gap between the curriculum development team and the faculty and, in some instances, administration. And as the courses are built out, some assignments are less practical and effective – which causes the faculty to have issues. Or the administration will listen to the updates at the occasionally scheduled checkpoints and decide, spur of the moment, that something needs to be added or eliminated.
What this leads to is, at the end of the day, a lot of different groups finding out that what they thought was going to be built hasn’t really been built.
So, we named this “Test it” but it could be “Have a more effective ‘Develop It’ Phase”. No matter what you want to call it, just make sure you keep everyone in the loop and that there is a step in place to prevent what was originally approved from being completely tossed aside and replaced with something else without the approval of everyone that was involved at the start.
Step 11: Go-to-market
At this point, it’s time to go-to-market with the new program offering in order to see how everything really works. And the key is to monitor the critical factors, gather data, analyze what’s going on and use those metrics to report on performance.
Remember that you want to look at more than marketing/enrollment management factors – you want to be looking at factors that help you identify the effectiveness of the faculty, curriculum, student services and anything that impacts the student’s experience.
Step 12: Evaluate, Modify
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Based on the results, you can make the decision to leave things as they are, modify based on input or skip ahead to Step 13.
Step 13: Exit
In the beginning, everyone is optimistic and couldn’t possibly imagine the idea failing – or running its course after a long, successful existence. So they ignore an important question…okay, two questions.
What would cause us to end the program and how would we end it?
Ignoring it today means leaving it for a much more emotional discussion where you may be in control of less factors. And that means rushing which can lead to bad decisions and bigger headaches.
We also highly recommend you make this public so that everyone involved – students, faculty, staff, administration, media, community leaders…you name them…know what the exit strategy is. Why? Because if the time comes, no one that’s involved will be surprised. This helps take a lot of the emotion out of the situation and makes for a much smoother exit.
What is the criteria for considering to end the offering? What is the criteria for ending the offering? Once that decision to end the offering has been made, what happens – who needs to do what, when, how and why?
How are students, faculty and staff notified? What accommodations will be made for students in the program? Faculty? Staff?
You can create your own list of questions to answer, criteria to meet- the key here is to remember that once the decision has been made, your exit strategy must then be followed in an open, transparent manner so all parties are involved, informed and on-board.
Yes, that’s a great deal of work. But it’s better to invest in this work than skip straight ahead to “Develop and Go to Market” – unless you like living on the edge, and have a lot of surplus resources including people and money.
But the bottom line is that you really should be asking questions in order that you are making a well informed decision that’s in the best interest of the institution and its resources (financial and human).
Developing and launching successful new programs is tough to do – these steps will help you by addressing key areas and minimizing risk.
For those of you might be thinking “…too much time, have to be fast and be first to market”, I hear you. Go ahead and feel free to edit some of the above. But create an “Express Process”, don’t by-pass a review and evaluation process for the sake of speed because if the opportunity looks too good to pass by, you might be missing something!
Patrick McGraw is VP of Higher Educaton Marketing Services and has more than 25 years experience in market research, competitive intelligence, business intelligence including database marketing and CRM, strategic planning, brand development and management as well as operations/campaign management. His work has consistently helped his clients and employers develop and implement more efficient ways to attract and retain profitable customers, enter new markets and launch new products. His areas of focus include the education, hospitality, travel and tourism, hi-tech, telecommunications, financial services, and retail industries on both the agency and customer sides.