Designing Programs with Prospective Students in MindUrsinus College Revamps Curriculum Using Program Insight
With enrollments dropping, Ursinus wanted a way to attract prospective traditional students with new, robust course offerings. Like most colleges, Ursinus had not previously used external market analysis to guide a strategic view of what would benefit the institution and boost enrollment.
The President, Brock Blomberg, hired Dr. Robert Massa, an enrollment consultant who had recently retired after 45 years of service in higher education, to identify opportunities for new program offerings, and to identify existing programs to reinforce and highlight. This time around, the president wanted to justify new programs based on whether they would be beneficial to the institution and why they would bring in new students. To meet this charge, Massa turned to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and IPEDS to find what majors were in demand and what skills would be useful for graduates in the local labor market. In the federal data that is available, careers not specifically tied to any majors and career pathways are difficult to follow, which makes it difficult to map new programs to specific majors and define which skills are important to a degree. Finding this information was a tedious and lengthy process of pulling and compiling multiple reports.
Massa also wanted to provide data that would demonstrate to prospective students how a degree from Ursinus could lead to specific career outcomes, but this data was scarece and difficult to find.
Ursinus asked Massa to chair a committee consisting of multiple stakeholders – three faculty members, the Director of the Career Center, the Director of Institutional Research, the CFO, the Vice President of Enrollment, the Dean of the College, and the President – to create a list of recommended programs based on labor demand in the region, the graduation rate, and alignment with the institution’s culture and mission. It was important to administration to stay true to the culture and mission of the institution and its current physical, fiscal and human resources.
To do this, the committee started using Burning Glass Technologies’ Program Insight™ to gather the information they needed in one place. With this data, the committee could bring together the BLS and IPEDS data seamlessly at the same time and reporting on details of job postings and skills descriptions, the could dig into the demographics of the region to determine what areas of study and in-demand skills would add value for an Ursinus graduate.
It took four months for the committee to produce a list of 30 in-demand majors and areas of study, which they then filtered into two lists; one a list of programs that Ursinus had the resources to launch, and the other a list they would need new resources for. After that Massa analyzed each major and the metro areas and states they were popular in, paying particular attention to the offerings at competing schools in the region and graduation rates over the past five or six years to determine how these degrees were trending.
Massa’s report narrowed the initial list of 30 programs down to 10 to present to the President and the Dean of the College. Out of that list, the President and his cabinet decided to pursue five new courses. They chose Finance/Accounting, Software Engineering, Engineering Physics, Public Health, and Science Technology in Society to broaden existing departments, combine similar majors, and keep up with the growth trends in the labor market. Faculty champions are using these reccomendations to launch new programs by the 2021/2022 academic year.
Lessons for Future Work
Analyzing what other competitor institutions are offering can help gauge the demand for new programs and take advantage of opportunities for creating programs that fill in the gaps. Program Insight was one tool in an arsenal to make a case for expanding opportunities at Ursinus to provide market-aligned, competitive course offerings for students. The goal is to prepare students for lucrative careers that remain aligned with the institution’s mission while attracting new students.
Ursinus used many tools to create strategic initiatives to establish new programs and stabilize enrollments. This data pulled from Program Insight™ helped create recommendations for administration and faculty to act on these initiatives. Here are some of the key takeaways from this experience.
Trim down the research process. By compiling and organizing data with Program Insight, the committee could cut down the research process and focus on perfecting their new programs list.
Stay true to your institution’s message. Using the mission statement as a guideline will help unify all programs and attract prospective students with a strong message.
Use job projections. Paying attention to the jobs in the region that are in-demand and using the Job Trends over time in Program Insight can help predict the popularity of a program and helps students connect their courses with career pathways and outcomes.
Build on existing opportunities already in your institution. By using resources already available, your institution can keep the cost of updating and creating programs low. This will help cut the cost of new program development and keep programs aligned with the mission statement.
Pay attention to the competition. By deep diving into other institution’s programs, you get better insight into what is being taught, which skills and programs are becoming oversaturated, and identifying the gaps that new programs can fill.