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Launching an Online Program: Five Steps for Success

Updated 10/23/2023

Online and distance learning programs are becoming an integral part of the higher education landscape. More and more institutions are developing these programs to meet the needs of both traditional and non-traditional students and, in the process, are making relevant academic coursework available to a broader population. If your school is considering venturing into the online space, here are five steps to help you get started and guide you along the way:

1. Do Your Homework. Online learning programs that meet their success benchmarks the fastest are based on the right planning and research. First, conduct a feasibility study to answer fundamental questions like:

  • What program offerings would be valued by students and prospective employers?
  • What programs are and will be in demand according to labor statistics?
  • Which program offerings do you have now that can translate well to online learning?
  • Where is there an unmet need and how can new or existing program offerings fill it?
  • What’s the competition doing and how will your school differentiate its programs?
  • What are the estimated costs to enroll each new student? What support services will be in place to help students persist to graduation?

Answering these questions is the first step in getting a lay of the land and being able to bring a unique and valuable service to market that will help students and industry alike.

2. Think holistically. Creating an effective and successful online program is an institution-wide endeavor. Online learners have different scheduling, support services, and programmatic needs that will affect nearly every department on campus. Consider how launching an online program will change the resource needs of the library, IT, student services, and your advising staff. Anticipate needs in advance and equip faculty and staff for success.

3. Have a Business Plan. Like any new business venture, success is in the numbers. Before you begin, understand the capital investment that will be required to launch the online program in the right way and ensure its long-term success. Anticipate student acquisition costs, personnel expenses, and technology investments and determine when expected revenue will put you at the break-even point. Having a solid sense of the numbers will help set expectations, plan for contingencies, and encourage buy-in.

Your business plan should also include the KPIs that you’ll use to measure the success and the economic drivers that affect program performance. Determine target enrollment numbers, retention rates, and other metrics to guide program development and refinement.

4. Assemble the Right Team. Designing, launching, and managing an online program can be complicated. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel — hire experienced employees or retain consultants who’ve managed launches before and understand how all the moving pieces work together. Let experience and know-how be your friend by assembling a solid team of enrollment managers, marketing professionals, and entrepreneurial leaders who can work together, avoid costly mistakes, and deliver results.

5. Prepare for Change. Any change can be difficult; large institutional changes can be daunting. Guide your school through the process by first identifying a coalition of the willing that support the vision and who will serve as ambassadors to the idea across the organization. Encourage broad buy-in by articulating the plan, soliciting constructive feedback, helping faculty and staff learn about and prepare for online program delivery, and communicating how the design and launch process is proceeding. Anticipate and be prepared for resistance along the way—the cultural and logistical shifts that need to take place won’t happen overnight.

Remember, good design, strong communication, and expert guidance are the watchwords for success throughout the launch process. With the proper planning and preparation, your new online program will mature, prove itself in the numbers, and graduate successful alumni.

To learn more about how the Enrollment Builders team of professionals can help develop, launch, or manage your school’s online program, call us at 513-518-7824, or request information here.