The #1 Mistake Colleges Make

When Launching New Online Programs

What's the #1 mistake colleges and universities make when launching new online programs?

They focus on employer demand, but not market demand.

Job growth is important - and we shouldn't be launching new programs that don't have clear career pathways - but the truth is employers don't enroll in programs, students do.

So if we want our new programs to actually grow, we need to launch new programs that the market actually wants.

How do we go about doing that?

At Kanahoma we have a simple three step process:

  1. Employer Demand: First, look for those areas of strong job growth, using a variety of labor sources.

  2. Market Demand: Then, look to ensure demand among the prospective student population is growing as well. How do we do that? Look at search volume impression over time for relevant keywords.

  3. Market Supply: Finally, do a market scan to understand the current state of supply. Rather than relying on IPEDs (lagging outcomes data), rely on keyword CPCs and SEO scoring to determine how easy/hard it will be to serve on Page 1, either via paid or organic.

    Search rankings are a far better indicator of how the market will perceive supply and it doesn't actually matter how many programs there are, it matters how much it will cost you to outrank them.


So before you launch a new program, it needs to check off each of these three boxes:

  1. Employer Demand: There's healthy job growth projected

  2. Market Demand: There's evidence the market is looking for programs in this area

  3. Market Supply: We have reason to believe we can out-market the competition

There are obviously a LOT of caveats here (it's different if it's a true B2B play and employers are paying, the new program should fit your positioning and align with your academic expertise, acquisition cost needs to represent a reasonable proportion of life time value, etc.) BUT the lesson is that…

If you want to launch new programs that will actually grow, you can't just focus on what employers want, you need to focus on what students want too.

About the Author

Seth is the founder and CEO of Kanahoma, a San Diego-based education marketing agency. Operating at the intersection of beautiful brand creative and effective direct response marketing, Kanahoma partners with colleges and universities, education technology and service providers, as well as K-12 organizations.

You can learn more about Kanahoma at