Eduventures® Releases New Insight Report Providing a Framework for Evaluating Academic Portfolios in Uncertain Times

August 12, 2020

Report Looks Back at Previous National Crises to Anticipate Pandemic-Related Changes in Academic Program Demand

Boston, MA – August 12, 2020

ACT® | NRCCUA®, an educational data science and research organization, announced today the publication of the 2020 Eduventures Insights Report, Program Innovation in Uncertain Times. Eduventures is the research division of NRCCUA. This report explores a framework for considering new academic programs, changing existing programs, or retiring programs during the current disruptive environment.

Decoupling Program Performance from Enrollment Trends

With higher education in crisis, institutions must consider how this new environment will affect their current students and incoming classes. With program portfolios a key driver of enrollment success, those in charge of academic program innovation must gauge how demand for individual programs might shift in the short-term. In which areas is enrollment expected to decline? Which programs could potentially help balance out the loss? While most program enrollment may not be impacted by the new circumstances, institutions with specialized portfolios, signature programs, or large adult learner populations may experience notable changes in enrollment. This report examines impacted program categories and provides questions to ask when assessing the viability of programs as institutions prepare for the new normal.

Key Findings in this Report include the Following:

  1. Categories of Crisis-Impacted Programs
  • Vulnerable programs: Regardless of previous performance, vulnerable programs will be negatively affected because related occupations show the highest negative economic impact during the crisis.
  • Crisis-proof programs: These programs are in the “Goldilocks zone” (i.e., characterized by a combination of ideal circumstances) of impact. Crisis-proof programs have historically performed well, and related occupations are stable or would see increased demand during a crisis, therefore driving continued demand.
  • Crisis-dependent programs: During a disruptive event, certain programs may temporarily become more attractive than they were in the past, but then decline to previous demand levels once society recovers from the event. Eduventures identifies these crisis-dependent programs because student demand is driven by the crisis but is only temporary. Fortunately, there are very few of these programs since many programs that gain popularity in a crisis tend to remain stable for a longer period of time.
  1. Questions to Ask About Your Program Portfolio
  • How will the COVID-19 pandemic change the way business is conducted in certain industries? Are programs ready to prepare graduates for these changes? In the current environment, this might mean predicting how risk assessment and delivery of services might change.
  • What are the fears, hopes, and attitudes that will be shaped in the current environment? How will this influence student behaviors and preferences? The COVID-19 crisis might bring with it changed attitudes toward the attractiveness of frontline healthcare programs and other first responder pathways.
  • How has the learning environment changed amid the pandemic? Do institutions anticipate these changes to last? Has the institution handled them well or do they need to improve? In the current COVID-19 crisis, this includes rethinking the student experience during social distancing as well as optimizing the online delivery and pedagogy for different student populations.

“A crisis of this magnitude will provide an opportunity for much needed introspection and evaluation of current academic portfolios,” commented Johanna Trovato, Eduventures Senior Analyst and author of this report. She added, “Change is inevitable, even in normal times, but the expedited pace of change during this crisis makes it necessary to act. This does not mean a complete overhaul of programs is in order, but rather a strategic, careful evaluation of existing programmatic strengths and weaknesses based on history and data.”

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