Online portfolio planning is no longer an option in higher ed—it’s a strategic imperative.
Online and hybrid learning are increasingly the norm in higher education. Many students not only prefer online options for some or all of their courses—they expect it. As demand for online education grows, universities are recognizing that adding online programs to their curriculum is vital to maintaining and growing enrollments going forward. According to the Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) 6 report,1 published in June 2021, 80 to 90% of chief online officers at two- and four-year public institutions and four-year private institutions reported that online learning is now a greater priority for their institution than in the past, and 57% reported a reevaluation of the role of online learning in their strategic plans.
Through strategically developing more online learning options for degree programs, as well as offering online continuing education courses and certificates, universities can expand their reach, grow enrollments among more diverse populations of prospects and ultimately future-proof their offerings as the higher education landscape continues to shift and evolve. Schools that fail to start building a sustainable online learning infrastructure and high-quality online offerings now risk losing out on future growth opportunities and enrollments.
Establishing a well-rounded online portfolio takes resources and time. But with know-how, universities can grow their online offerings in a way that is time efficient, cost effective and provides students a well-rounded, high-value academic experience. Here are some next steps to get started:
1. Establish an online portfolio roadmap.
Strategic, data-driven market analyses and program planning can help to identify the right online and hybrid program mix for your university. A detailed analysis of your university’s positioning in the market, the programs and positioning of your peers (and competitors), labor market data and your ideal prospective student mix, can help identify your greatest areas of opportunity. This type of analysis can provide the basis for an online portfolio roadmap that outlines goals for future examination and online expansion.
2. Take stock of your existing resources and capabilities.
Administer a comprehensive audit of existing technology, tools, systems, personnel, and resources that the university can leverage to introduce or expand your online presence. Universities are an ecosystem of expertise and ideas; explore how you can tap into the knowledge and experience within your university and community to help with the process of planning and building a strong infrastructure for online learning. Based on this audit, you can identify gaps where new resources or solutions will be needed.
3. Consider working with an external partner who can help.
Look to third-party higher education experts who can bring advanced know-how, and help fill the gaps and build on the university’s existing internal capabilities. In recent years, there has been rapid growth in emerging technologies that support high quality online learning. Specialized education technology (EdTech) providers can support and improve online education with a range of services and tools, including:
- Market research and portfolio planning: Data-based market research provides a roadmap for strategic portfolio planning. Through analysis of your university’s brand and existing programs, your competitors’ programs and labor market insights, you can determine the best program mix for your university or department, how to position those programs, and define your ideal prospective student mix.
- Marketing and recruitment: Providers who specialize in higher education marketing and lead generation can help find and recruit the best students for your programs, helping to expand your reach, grow your enrollments, and support high retention and graduation rates.
- Instructional design and faculty support: Instructional design experts are trained in online learning design and course development best practices. High-quality learning design ensures online courses are engaging, effective for a range of learning styles, accessible and inclusive. Along with instructional design, faculty support services give faculty the training and guidance they need to succeed in online teaching.
- Enrollment management: Tailored, streamlined support for online programs includes providing the technology, outreach protocols and highly qualified and trained personnel to nurture prospective students through their consideration, application and admissions process.
- Student retention services: Student support and retention specialists partner with the university and support students throughout their online program to ensure they thrive in the program and continue through to graduation. This support can include things like ensuring students know how to access and navigate their courses, have access to university resources as needed, and have a single point of contact to help them talk through potential barriers that may interfere with their studies and troubleshoot potential solutions before such challenges arise. This, in turn, can help all students have a more engaging experience, and is especially helpful for students who are at risk of stopping out or dropping out prior to program completion.
- Technology infrastructure and analytics: The right technology and tools provide a foundation for online portfolio development, aiding in efficiency, usability and scalability. Technologies that support online education and enrollment can facilitate the use of analytics to measure program performance. Thousands of system choices exist. A third party provider can help navigate the system and configuration options, bringing essential know-how to the university, to ensure you make the best selections for your unique needs.
An EdTech provider can work with your university to build a sustainable online portfolio over time and support the operation of online programs to ensure high-quality online delivery, enrollment growth and strong student outcomes. Higher education’s shift toward online and hybrid learning is well underway and will inevitably play an integral role going forward. Through strategic planning, leveraging internal resources and partnering with expert EdTech providers, universities can be prepared.
Wondering how building authentic, effective online programs works in practice? Check out this webinar Everspring co-presented with Toby McChesney, vice provost for graduate programs at Santa Clara University, on how Santa Clara built a successful online MBA program that has achieved impressive national rankings.