Request Info

A University’s Guide to Market Research: Three Key Data Types for Assessing the Viability of New Programs

July 17, 2015 by Laura Pizzo

University-White-PaperIt’s exciting to start a new program—especially for faculty and staff members who are tasked with qualifying a new idea or exploring options in a particular market.

But implementing a program, even an online program, requires additional investment in personnel and marketing and outreach resources, among other costs. If the program is unlikely to produce enough revenue to cover those budgetary costs, the program is unlikely to be sustainable—that’s why many universities and colleges have market research processes in place prior to bringing new programs to leadership for approval.

This week, EMSI released a guidebook that shows you how to prepare the best possible program proposal by incorporating labor market and education data into your research. These steps can help you stay competitive, drive enrollment, and predict a new program’s sustainability before your institution invests time and resources into it. The best news? This data doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult to collect.

Topics and Questions

Chapter 1: What are the strengths and weaknesses of degree completion data, and how can you use it to find opportunities or verify the viability of a potential program?

Chapter 2: How can you use labor market data (both industry and occupation data) to further verify the viability, timeliness, and relevance of potential programs?

Chapter 3: How can you use business and job postings data to construct programs that align with workforce needs and prospective student markets?

A Sample from the Guidebook: On Education Data

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is one of the most useful data sources available to universities and colleges when evaluating new program potential. Developed by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS collects data from every college, university, and technical and vocational institution that participates in federal student financial aid programs.

IPEDS data is organized into a taxonomy called the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) system. The CIP system tracks and reports on fields of study and completions activity. This data has a variety of uses for market research, primarily in terms of assessing the competitor landscape:

  • View nearby, competitor, and online program completion data to determine whether or not there is a strong demand for a specific program.
  • Identify competitor programs, then research them further in order to determine how you can differentiate yours.
  • Learn how you might tweak your program name and course offerings, if a similar program or emphasis is more (or too) popular.

Unfortunately, IPEDS only distinguishes between online and residential program counts; degree completion information is reported in aggregate. But there is a trick for getting a sense of how many students are graduating with online degrees in a certain discipline.

This information is extraordinarily valuable. In order to measure potential interest, and to improve upon your marketing strategies and differentiate your program offerings, you have to know your competition.

But because IPEDS is so comprehensive, it can be bewildering and difficult to navigate. CIP classifications do not necessarily match up with the exact names of majors, so even finding your institution’s own completers might be difficult. How can you make sense of it?

One method is to try different detail levels. If you can’t find what you are looking for at a more detailed level, you’ll be able to find it with a broader view—and vice versa. The CIP taxonomy is organized on three levels:

  1. The two-digit series: general groupings of related programs
  2. The four-digit series: intermediate groupings of programs that have comparable content and objectives
  3. The six-digit series: specific instructional programs

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 3.10.49 PM

IPEDS can also tell you whether or not a specific institution offers a specific program, which allows you to compare prices, enrollment, financial aid, student success, and finances. You can even see if it offers an online option for that program (this is one way to estimate online program popularity).

Unfortunately, IPEDS only distinguishes between online and residential program counts; degree completion information is reported in aggregate. But there is a trick for getting a sense of how many students are graduating with online degrees in a certain discipline. To do this, analyze completions data for traditionally online universities (such as Capella University, Liberty University, Arizona State University-Skysong, etc.). By viewing these schools’ degrees and completions, you can estimate interest, popularity, and need.

How else can IPEDS data be used for market research? With this information, you can easily see whether or not your institution can compete with other programs in terms of tuition rates, scholarship offerings, etc. For example, if the degree program you want to start is popular but the average price of the program is higher than your institution would charge, the program may still be a worthwhile opportunity for you.


For more on EMSI data—available at the county, MSA, and ZIP code level—or to see how else data can drive success at your institution, visit our university page or contact us. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Want to get notified?