• Maricel Lawrence

Navigating the waters of launching an online program in higher education

The process of launching an online program can be very different depending on the

Photo taken in Austin, TX by Maricel Lawrence

type of degree you are launching, the type of institution you belong to, the subject of that specific degree, the accreditation, state and federal rules you might need to follow, just to name a few of the items you will need to consider.

This could be an overwhelming process, but as many challenges in life and professionally, it should not frighten you. The process can be as exciting and rewarding as you might be willing to make it be.

If your role or task is to take an online program from idea to launch, the first few things you might want to do are the following:

1. Learn the process your institution has aligned to approve a program to be offered online.

2. Consult the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education.

3. Meet the team of faculty/instructors behind this program and learn about:

a. Why do they want to teach this program online? What are their goals?

b. What is the history of this program if already exists on campus? What data have they collected over time?

c. Who in the group has experience teaching online?

d. What do they know about the online market for this specific program?

e. How is this type of program accredited? Does it lead to certification or licensure?

f. These are just a few questions, I’m sure you will think of other ones!

4. Once you have a good amount of information from the faculty, run a market research. Some institutions have access to tools like Burning Glass or EMSI, others work with organizations that can run market research for you. No matter what way you go about doing this, always run a market research!

I am sharing with you an example of a timeline and major activities I usually go through while launching a new online program. As you go through this process, you will end up moving back and forth through those steps since through conversations with the faculty, department chairs, deans and administrators you will be gathering more and more information that will help you and the faculty decide if you want to move forward with the launching of the program.

One of the biggest steps of the process is running a financial proforma. List out all of your expenses and clearly understand how much it will cost to run the program. From the market research you should have enough information to understand your demand. Is your program going to be financially sustainable?

Once all of those pieces have been thoroughly discussed. You might need to move into a proposal to get the program approved internally and externally. Getting the program approved will give you the green light to move into the fun parts of the process (just in case you have not been having fun so far J). Course development, accessibility, marketing, student recruitment, application and admissions, student registration and support and data collection are just a few of the areas that now you need to focus on.

The first program launch is usually the hardest because you are learning how the whole workflow works at your institution, while working with the faculty to help them go through this long process (you might feel as you are building the plane as you are flying it). But don’t stress, the next program launch will be easier, and easier… you will know who to talk with in all of the areas you must navigate and what is usually expected at each stage.

If this is your first time launching a program or you have been doing this for years, we would love to hear from you. Contact me or the CORAL team through our social media. We would love to hear from you!

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