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By Donna Desrochers and Emma Staisloff

Data science is the new ‘in-demand’ program on many college campuses, and for good reason. The vast amounts of information available today can be overwhelming; employers need workers who can sift through it and make meaning of it all.

Good data is equally valuable to colleges. Especially those at an economic and demographic crossroads: grappling with lackluster enrollment, declining high school populations, steadily rising operating costs, and heightened demand to connect college degrees to the workforce.

Questions about the value of a college degree have also grown louder as prices continue to spiral upward, but students’ economic motivations for attending college are clear. Attracting them with emotionally driven marketing efforts and anecdotal evidence no longer suffices for institutions looking to not only survive but thrive.

Instead, institutional leadership teams require data and analysis that informs their decision-making processes on where and how to invest in their academic portfolios. They need to answer pressing questions, such as:

  • Is there interest in the programs their college is offering?
  • How well does each program reflect not only institutional strengths, but the needs of the labor market?
  • And is there available market capacity to launch new or grow existing programs?

rpk GROUP is addressing this need by launching a new Market Demand & Opportunity (MDO) offering. Our MDO approach provides actionable, customized insights into how colleges and universities might best shape their academic portfolio to reflect both demands from students and employers, as well as competition from other institutions. The tailored analysis shows college leaders:

  1. The student demand for programs offered on their campus,
  2. The employment outlook associated with those programs,
  3. Potential gaps in their academic portfolio to prepare students for growing jobs, and
  4. The competitive landscape among other institutions offering similar programs.

The MDO analysis elevates institutions’ program offerings and makes them more competitive by identifying job market trends and demand which are poised to attract a larger cohort of students. The national and/or state employment outlook identifies future job growth opportunities as well as growing occupations unserved by the existing academic portfolio.

Ultimately, the MDO supports the creation of new, sustainable business models that allow institutions to get more for the resources they already have.

Proof Positive

rpk GROUP has already established the value of the MDO approach in our work with both institutional and system-level clients. rpk GROUP was recently engaged by the Vermont State College System (VSCS) to support the consolidation of its three institutions and create one streamlined portfolio across those locations.

Over the course of six months, rpk developed and implemented a program evaluation framework for VSCS that aligned with the state’s goal of 70% of Vermonters having a credential of value by 2025. The main components of the evaluation framework included: determination of program enrollment size and growth, gauging future labor market demand, and examining student success. It’s important to zoom in on the inclusion of labor market demand, which is a key feature of the MDO analysis, because it was essential to making the connection between the evaluation framework and state’s attainment goal.

When appraising market demand, rpk focused on current programs as well as potential gaps in VSCS’s academic portfolio. Evaluating both projected job growth and average job openings over a 10-year time span helped us determine the market strength of each VSCS program and identify gaps where there was strong occupational demand, but no VSCS offerings. Adopting an employment perspective brought transparency to graduates’ career opportunities, lent support to Vermont’s economy, and aligned program offerings with prospective students’ interests.

The market demand analyses, in combination with outcomes from rpk’s Academic Portfolio and Resource Reviews (APRR), identified opportunities to strengthen VSCS’s portfolio through program investment, optimization, and elimination. The gap analysis also highlighted 14 occupational areas into which the current portfolio could expand.

These recommendations are just the beginning. Moving forward, VSCS will dive into each program recommendation and create an ideal portfolio that meets the needs of all Vermonters.

Access the full report to learn more.

Opportunity Awaits

rpk’s new MDO offering brings an external lens that’s essential in creating a sustainable business model. The necessary connection between program offerings and the labor market is not lost on students and should not be pushed aside by institutions. As college leaders move toward building a ‘data-driven institution,’ rpk recommends they integrate local market demand opportunities into their planning.

The MDO can be conducted as a stand-alone analysis, but clients often chose to combine it with Academic Portfolio and Resource Reviews that investigate opportunities to better align resources with strategic priorities. Leadership teams interested in learning more about the MDO and other rpk opportunities can contact us.


Donna Desrochers

Donna is an associate at rpk GROUP.