Online Program Feasibility

Because of the major investments required in the design, development, and delivery of an online program, completion of a market study in advance of deciding to launch a new program is a critical step to ensure a) there is adequate student demand for the new online offering and b) there is academic unit capacity and buy-in for developing and delivering the program; and c) the program will be marketed to the appropriate audiences with the correct messages.

Market Studies: Assessing Student Demand

To assist in this effort, the Center for Educational Innovation has contracted with the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Center for Research and Strategy to external conduct three types of studies:

Environmental Scans - Environmental scanning is quick and efficient, based on secondary and competitive data. Using labor forecasts, job board data, demographics and information extracted from competitor websites, an analysis is produced that helps units assess whether a program decision can be made or whether more in-depth research is needed, such as a more in-depth feasibility study.

Feasibility Studies - Using both primary and secondary information and research sources, an in-depth feasibility analysis can be conducted to assess new program proposals or programs in need of revision. The feasibility study utilizes information similar to environmental scan, but supplements with end-user or employer surveys, or opinion leader interviews. Opinion leader interviews provide qualitative depth to the new program concept, while end-user or employer surveys can provide more precision or market size information.

Portfolio Review -The UPCEA Center for Research and Strategy can use its decision-making model to assist units with the complex task of prioritizing academic program portfolios. Units are often faced with difficult decisions: which programs to prioritize and which ones to retire. The Center’s model aligns industry trends, competitor information, and the institution’s enrollment data with an existing or proposed program portfolio. The model rates and ranks programs based on trends, opportunities and strengths, and provides unit leaders with data to enhance difficult portfolio discussions.

The University of Minnesota’s main focus (and financial support) is targeted to environmental scans. These scans are typically 20-30 page reports designed to address these questions:

  • What is the condition of the market for the particular academic program?
  • What would employer demand be for this program?
  • Is there information available that could impact content development or course offerings?
  • What is the size and magnitude of the competition?

After consulting with Bob, please complete the Program Environmental Scan Assessment Worksheet to gather information for the study by following these instructions:

  1. Make a copy of the worksheet by clicking on this link: Program Environmental Scan Assessment Worksheet.
  2. Rename the Google Document with your proposed program’s name.
  3. When you have completed the worksheet, email Bob at rmr@umn.edu with a link to your Google document. Bob will then submit it to UPCEA.

Internal Readiness

In addition to external market studies, academic units should examine their internal readiness to complete the picture. These issues include:

  • Curriculum and courses
  • Faculty and faculty support
  • Student academic and technical support
  • Marketing and inquiry management
  • Admissions and onboarding

The College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) has put together a list of internal preparedness questions for online programs

Financial Forecast

Finally, academic units should examine projected: a) tuition revenue; and b) operating costs including:

  • Advisors
  • Program Coordinator
  • Student Services
  • Director of Graduate Studies (if MA program)
  • Marketing/Recruiting Costs
  • Instructional costs
  • Production costs

These should be calculated using scenarios with different projections as to the: a) number of students; b) percent full-time students; and c) number of credits taken by students.