The first blog in this program strategy series addressed the difference between assessing a portfolio of programs and conducting an individual program analysis. In that article, we recommended a high-level assessment of a suite of academic programs to understand your portfolio’s strength and highlight opportunities for better management. The next step in the process is to conduct a more targeted academic review.

In today’s rapidly evolving higher ed landscape, colleges and universities face mounting pressures to stay relevant and responsive to the needs of students and employers alike. With the job market becoming increasingly competitive and industries undergoing constant transformations, academic institutions need to adopt a market-driven approach to reviewing academic programs. Considering a variety of market factors helps ensure that academic offerings align closely with industry demands and student aspirations, fostering greater success for both graduates and the institutions themselves.

Introduction to academic program review

At most institutions, the program review process traditionally occurs once every five to seven years and typically includes:

  • An in-depth self-study led by program faculty involving program administrators and students,
  • A review of the self-study report by a team outside of the department housing the program, and
  • Determination of next steps based on program review findings.

This approach focuses primarily with an internal lens, considering factors such as enrollment trends, curriculum coherence, faculty expertise, and student and graduate outcomes.

While these aspects remain essential, supplementing the traditional five-year review cycle with a more frequent, market-driven approach to program evaluation and resource allocation can help institutions adapt swiftly to changing workforce needs and technological advancements.

The role of market data in academic decision-making

The market-driven approach provides three key benefits.

Enhances the employability of graduates

By analyzing industry trends, job market demands, and employer feedback, institutions can tailor the curricula of their academic programs to equip students with the skills and knowledge most valued by employers.

This proactive approach not only increases students’ chances of securing meaningful employment but also enhances the reputation of the institution as a provider of career-ready graduates.

Fosters innovation and agility within academic institutions

By closely monitoring market trends and emerging fields, schools can introduce new programs or modify existing ones to address emerging needs. This flexibility enables institutions to stay ahead of the curve, offering cutting-edge education that prepares students for the jobs of tomorrow.

Enhances partnerships and collaboration with industry stakeholders

By actively engaging with employers, professional associations, and community organizations, universities can gain valuable insights into industry expectations and cultivate opportunities for internships, co-op programs, and applied research projects.

These partnerships not only enrich the learning experience for students but also provide avenues for faculty professional development and research funding.

How to prioritize program analysis

Start with programs classified as Robust Performers, those that are large and growing (see the first blog in the series for details). These programs are more likely to have a shorter timeline for realizing a return on investment.

With the exception of mega-universities (such as Southern New Hampshire, WGU, Grand Canyon, and ASU), college and university enrollment is regionally focused. Students gravitate toward familiar brands, and research continues to show they prefer institutions within 50 miles of their home. Therefore, we recommend, when possible, focusing on regional, external data in program analysis.

Adult learner audiences

Many institutions today are focused on aligning programs to successfully reach the adult learner population.

The snapshot below provides an overview of the fundamental aspects of program design necessary to attract these learners. A comprehensive academic program review should include an evaluation of the program’s alignment with each of these factors.

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  • Cost: competitive to regional providers
  • Generous transfer credits

More relevance

  • Career relevant
  • Employer-recognized credentials
  • Stackable pathways
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Fewer barriers

  • 3-6 start terms
  • No entry exams
  • “Level-up” course options
  • Minimal transcript requirements
  • No deposit fees


  • Online
  • Low/zero residency
  • Asynchronous delivery
  • “Stop out” re-entry support
  • Terms of 6–8 weeks

Metrics for evaluating program demand

In a market-driven approach to program review, it’s crucial to gather and analyze relevant data points that reflect the demands and trends of the job market and industry sectors. Here are some key data points to consider:

  1. Labor market analysis:
    • Employment trends in relevant industries or sectors
    • Projected growth or decline in specific occupations
    • Regional demand for certain skills or professions
  2. Industry surveys and feedback:
    • Surveys or interviews with employers to identify desired skills and competencies
    • Feedback from alumni regarding the relevance of their education to their careers
    • Input from professional associations or industry partners on emerging trends and technologies
  3. Competitors: Enrollment and conferral trends of regional competitors offering similar programs
  4. Student demand: Key search volume and estimation of inquiry volume (Google search data is often used as a proxy for student demand as well as data from enrollment on what prospective students are looking for)
  5. Job placement and career outcomes:
    • Employment rates and job placement statistics for program graduates
    • Average starting salaries and career progression data
    • Employer satisfaction with the skills and preparedness of graduates
  6. Skills and competency mapping:
    • Identification of key skills and competencies required for success in relevant fields
    • Alignment of program learning outcomes with industry needs and professional standards
    • Assessment of student proficiency in critical areas through surveys, assessments, or employer feedback
  7. Graduate feedback and alumni success:
    • Surveys or interviews with program graduates to assess the relevance of their education to their careers
    • Tracking of alumni achievements, leadership positions, and contributions to their fields
    • Alumni networking events or mentorship programs to foster ongoing engagement and feedback

Tap a partner for job market insights

Collecting this important market data every two to three years may require assistance from an external agency well-versed in collecting and analyzing the data.

When selecting a partner, it’s important to consider their expertise and experience working with higher education programs, knowledge of the institution, and access to analytical tools (such as Collegis Education’s exclusive collaboration with Google Cloud).

Insights into the evolving needs of the market allow academic institutions to make informed decisions that enhance the relevance, quality, and impact of their programs. This market-driven approach ensures that graduates are well-equipped to meet the demands of the workforce and contribute meaningfully to their chosen professions and industries. And that reflects well on the institution.

Author: Tracy Chapman, PhD

Tracy Chapman, PhD., serves as Collegis’s Chief Academic Officer. Chapman’s 20+ years in academia includes leadership, scholarship, and innovative approaches to reaching students. Prior to joining Collegis, Chapman served as the dean of the School for Professional Studies and associate provost for Distance Education at Saint Louis University, and led Creighton University’s Center for Academic Innovation.