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How Growing Online is Growing Revenue

Online enrollment growth is outpacing on-campus enrollment and the institutions taking advantage of this new demand are seeing results. Colleges and universities have turned to a number of creative revenue streams to defeat declining enrollments, but expanding online has been the most prominent, popular and profitable. Keep reading to see why this single point of expansion has helped so many universities not only stay afloat, but thrive.

Proven Online Success

Like any business, educational institutions must meet their revenue goals in order to keep the doors open. Even public universities are faced with hard decisions in the face of withering state appropriations. Cost cutting, as well as tuition and fee raises have typically already occurred since enrollment numbers have been dropping for years. While the advent of online education was in the early 2000’s, some institutions are still just considering adding these modern programs to their catalog.

While many smaller and regional comprehensive universities consider investing in online program offerings, some institutions are already seeing them pay off. Typically colleges and universities don’t share revenue numbers, but UMass Online celebrated their achievement of hitting $100 million in revenue at the end of 2017. According to Inside Higher Ed, “UMass Online’s course enrollments have grown steadily in the last five years, up from 54,000 in 2012 to more than 75,000 this past school year [2017]. Besides increasing enrollment, the system offered approximately 160 degree programs during the past academic year, up from 145 in 2012. Officials said that three to five programs are being added each year.” With seven to 10 percent growth year-over-year since 2012, UMass plans to continue expanding program offerings online, as well as on-campus.

Similarly, Colorado State University Online continues to see revenue increases year-over-year, with a six percent gain from 2017 to 2018. As reported by The Rocky Mountain Collegian, “Over the last 10 years, the University division has more than doubled their gross revenue while also growing their course offerings and student audience.” CSU Online is formally known as the Division of Continuing Education and manages the University’s online program and courses from campus.

Based on these examples and many others, we know that online program offerings can increase revenue, but why? Causes for declining college enrollments nationwide point at our diminishing overall population, high tuition rates and student fees, and a perceived lack of value in the workplace. If the problem is linked to a lack of interest in education, then why is online learning producing the revenue boost higher education needs?

Modern Learners

One of the main reasons that online education providers are seeing additional revenue is because they’ve expanded their target market. No longer is college reserved for just-out-of-high school 18 year old’s, living on-campus in the dorms. With eLearning capabilities, students can complete their coursework anywhere they have access to the internet, and that opens the door for a lot of modern learners.

Modern learners are the students of today. A typical learner in an online program is in their mid-30’s, works a full-time job and has family responsibilities at home. Because location and time requirements are off the table, an online student can complete their degree, or add new skills to their resume, without putting life on hold. Additionally, because online courses aren’t location-specific, students from around the world can now access courses at specific institutions that were previously unavailable to them.

Learners in rural areas can now attend their state school, or another state’s school, without ever leaving home. International students can earn credits in the United States to use in their home country or to build a future in the U.S. Online education removes the barriers that prevent many learners from accessing the education they want. Once those constraints are gone, we discover a new student population who is comfortable with technology, prefers to communicate digitally and wants to take advantage of the opportunity to earn an education. Institutions that acknowledge modern learners and meet them where they are, using the tools they’re most familiar with, have a much wider audience than those without these options. With more potential students comes the opportunity for an increase in revenue by taking in more learners.

Career Specific Courses

The majority of modern learners today are motivated toward education because of the potential career benefits possible. Whether the goal is to complete a degree, add new skills or legitimize skills acquired through experience, learners want to see a direct correlation between their curriculum and their career. Learners need a professional return on their educational investment in order to deem the journey “worth it.” The desire for career-specific programs, like law enforcement, information technology and cyber security, healthcare, project management and human resources, must be prioritized over liberal arts programs that don’t provide a specific path to a certain career or role. Language programs, math and physics, sociology, geography and other programs with less predictive professional implications are being replaced as a means of increasing revenue. Some institutions are standing out from their competition with non-traditional programs like game design, cannabis cultivation, entertainment engineering and design, turf and golf course management and theme park engineering. While these may seem pretty specific, there is an audience for new age courses that also point students toward an industry or specific role. The choice to stop investing in the programs with the lowest enrollment numbers, while adding new programs, and converting some to online is a way to diversify program offerings and increase potential revenue.

Workplace Partnerships

Another way that adding and/or growing online can help institutions increase revenue is through workplace partnerships. Typically, an institution teams up with a corporation, organization, agency, etc. to provide those employees with discounted tuition as a benefit of their employment. Not only do professionals get the opportunity to earn their education for less, but the employer prospers with a highly skilled workforce and dedicated employees who are thankful for the benefit. The education provider gains additional tuition and relevant fees for an overall growth in revenue. Of course institutions can provide workplace partnership opportunities without online offerings, but traditional classroom learning isn’t conducive for full-time employees. The online option is a perfect fit because employees can complete coursework outside of work hours and maintain their full-time job.

Overall, eLearning solutions are helping both students and colleges and universities by giving learners what they want. Convenience, flexibility, professional return on investment and potential discounts make online learning possible for a wide variety of students who cannot fit traditional learning into their lives. With that said, as administrators consider the potential for growth, they need to understand that going online isn’t a guarantee for increased revenue. In fact, some institutions have tried and failed.

It’s absolutely crucial to the success of an eLearning transition that curriculum and development experts are involved. Courses need to be created, tested, marketed, reinforced and maintained to achieve the revenue growth expected. Beyond Campus Innovations (BCI) provides experience and proven results as eLearning experts with a range of custom services and infrastructure to support long-term growth. If you’re considering increasing your revenue with online services, contact BCI to talk to a consultant and see if distance learning right for your institution’s goals.

Published 7/10/2019

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