Ready for Online Expansion? Poll Indicates Where Institutions Need Help

Scott JeffeVice President, Research (Graduate and Online)August 25, 2022

How ready do institutions think they are to expand their online footprint? This was the focus of the recent kickoff event for RNL Own and Transform Your Online Success content series. In the course of a discussion between RNL’s head of research (myself), chief academic officer, and a seasoned enrollment expert, attendees were asked to rate their “institutional readiness” in four areas critical for success:

  1. Use of market data in program selection
  2. Expertise in instructional design
  3. Responsiveness of recruitment teams
  4. Sophistication of marketing operation

Instructional Design

Institutions are most likely to be fully prepared to address the challenges associated with instructional design, albeit with only 11 percent rating their institution as “very ready.” Another 46 percent indicated that their institution was “quite ready” to build quality content and related support services. This was by far the area in which respondents felt confident that they were ready to go.

Online Readiness: Chart on Internal Expertise in Instructional Design

Recruitment and Admissions

Institutions are least confident that their recruitment and admissions teams were prepared to meet the expectations of online students in terms of speed, pace, and personalization, with almost one-third indicating that they were “not at all ready.” Another 39 percent indicated that their institutions are only “somewhat ready.”

Online Readiness: Chart Showing If Recruitment Team is Ready for Speed, Pace, and Personalization

Why is this important? This is an area of critical importance given RNL’s recent survey of 1,600 prospective online students indicates that 60 percent are likely to enroll in the online program that responds to their inquiry first and 80 percent are likely to enroll in the program that admits them first.

Market Research

Institutions have a way to go in being fully prepared to objectively assess online program concepts using market data. While only 13 percent are “not at all prepared,” only two percent are “very ready” to perform this essential function. The vast majority (62 percent) are “somewhat prepared,” indicating that there are still a great many program decisions that are being made on the basis of factors other than objective market data.

Online Readiness: Chart Showing Access to Market Data to Assess Program Viability

Why is this important? Institutions that make program decisions on the basis of politics or expediency (mounting a program because the sponsor is eager to do it rather than because market demand has been proven) is one of the most common mistakes in online education. While such a program may enroll students, it is likely that institutions will need between three and five such programs (all with the same fixed costs) in place of one program with demonstrated market demand.


Second only to recruitment and admissions, institutions lack confidence that their marketing operation is ready to create the sophisticated, multichannel marketing campaigns that it takes to be successful. Across many conversations over many months, we have heard that this is not only a function of the shortage of the dollars it will take to do this, but also a lack of expertise—and significant challenges in attracting people with that kind of expertise within the salary ranges that they have available.

Online Readiness: Chart Showing Marketing Team Can Mount Sophistcated Multichannel Campaigns

Why does this matter? In each successive year (beginning before the pandemic, but accelerating since) the number of institutions offering online programs has increased significantly. This has given online students more choices than ever before—they can select a national for-profit, a national non-profit, a public flagship, or the local college down the road. For any of these options, more than 80 percent of students are starting their search online and more than 60 percent are learning more about the programs that interest them on digital platforms (according to our 2022 Online Student Recruitment Report). Online programs need to be visible in order for them to be considered.

Download our free Institutional Online Readiness Guide

Online Readiness Guide

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About the Author

Scott Jeffe, RNL

Scott Jeffe has worked with more than 200 institutions in 40+ states to apply market data to strategic decisions. With a focus on profiling the demands and preferences of nontraditional (adult, online, etc.) students, Scott...

Read more about Scott's experience and expertise

Reach Scott by e-mail at Scott.Jeffe@RuffaloNL.com.

Read More Blogs By: Scott Jeffe