Planning Online Programs: Making Sure There’s a Market

illustration of online learning with computers and textbooks

As they look to improve student access and increase degree completion rates, more institutions are considering launching or scaling up existing online initiatives. At Academic Impressions, we're responding to the trend with a series of articles interviewing leading experts on planning online programs, and by offering an upcoming conference that leverages collaborative information sharing and case studies to guide institutions in developing a working plan.

It's becoming more widely recognized that online programming entails far more than just providing electronic correspondence courses; with the new mode of course delivery come new demands on instructional design, technological infrastructure and student support services, staff and faculty training, and new challenges for your marketing and recruiting efforts. The investment required demands that institutions adopt a deliberate approach to developing online programs. The potential for increased tuition revenue and increased access to higher education is significant -- but to see success, you have to look before you leap.

Joel Hartman, vice provost for information technologies and resources and chief information officer at the University of Central Florida, suggests that those initiatives that have failed in the past share some or all of these characteristics:

  • "Conceptualized by administrators who made the assumption that there was a market for their proposed online programs, only to discover that market was not as large in reality"
  • "Assumed a lower cost of producing and a higher rate of return than turned out to be the case"
  • "Did not prepare, inform, or gather support of faculty"

We ran an article last week on involving faculty during the planning process. This week, we turned to two the leading experts in online education to learn more about how institutions need to approach assessing the market for potential online programs.

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