Close this search box.

3 Ways to Engage with Trending Academic Programs

Learn how trending academic programs play an important role in addressing today’s student enrollment challenges.

Higher education leaders are all too familiar with prospective students’ growing doubts about the return on investment of a college education. Concerns about tuition affordability, student debt, and future employment challenges are chief reasons why many potential students are opting out of a traditional four-year degree. For institutions facing tough enrollment challenges, administrative leaders must turn to more nimble and creative solutions to uncover top academic program opportunities. Beyond marketing messages or branding campaigns, one of the best ways to attract new students is to ensure your academic programs meet both student demand and future employer needs. Here are three research-driven ways to ensure your degree and certificate offerings will bring more students to your door.

Embrace Flexible Learning Options and Alternative Credentials

Flexible learning options such as online, hybrid, part-time, and career-focused offerings such as microcredentials remain a trending topic in higher education and a proven way to accommodate more non-traditional students such as adults over 24, caregiving students, and students with full-time employment needs. Colleges and universities that embrace trending academic program models and modalities are better positioned to attract and retain students looking for a strong return on their educational investment.

Some institutions may experience pushback from faculty or staff about offering non-degree programs or more flexible modalities. However, most non-traditional offerings cater to different populations than traditional degree programs. Furthermore, overlooking their potential may mean overlooking powerful opportunities to meet student demand. Having robust and varied academic programming means that your institution can appeal not only to traditional degree-seeking students but also to people in need of career upskilling who would otherwise not ever consider attending.

Consider the following takeaways when aiming to diversify the credential offerings and course formats at your institution:

  • Form partnerships with local employers to learn more about how to meet emerging industry needs and/or spread awareness about your current offerings.
  • Survey prospective students to understand their needs and interests around academic programs, learning modalities, and potential barriers to enrollment.
  • Incorporate research into your academic programming strategy to continually investigate degree trends, labor statistics, and job outlook data to identify any programmatic gaps that could be filled with non-traditional learning options or credentials.
Get the latest expert opinions on the state of higher education with our prerecorded webinar, What’s Ahead in 2024: Trends We See in Higher Education.

Track Student Demand to Pinpoint Target Markets for Trending Academic Programs

Prospective students are motivated to look for degree and certificate programs that will put them on a sustainable career path that matches their interests and leads to employment. It’s key, therefore, for institutions to highlight career connections and speak to tangible job skills both through new and existing academic programs. Yet having enticing or innovative programs alone is not enough.

Institutions must also take steps to help students discover their top academic programs and match with their best-fit programs. In a sea of educational options, this can be a tall order. Institutions can collect, analyze, and use data to their advantage to identify likely prospective student populations by programmatic areas and focus recruitment efforts on geographies and programs with the most promise. Follow these data-driven best practices to sharpen your institution’s program-specific recruitment efforts:

  • Get real-time data on programmatic demand by tracking academic program search engine trends nationally and in your key recruitment regions.
  • Explore key demographic and socioeconomic trends and enrollment patterns at your institution by program areas (including historical enrollment data, conversion rates, and completion data) to develop targeted student profiles.
  • Identify geographic target markets with favorable recruitment conditions and create a list of promising markets for further investigation.
Learn how Generation Z’s perspectives influence their higher education needs and expectations with our infographic, 9 Tips to Attract Gen Z Students. 

Leverage a Competitive Advantage with Optimized Academic Programs

Conducting a comprehensive academic portfolio review  can help you understand how well your degrees and certificates promote institutional goals and meet both student and employer demand. A portfolio review is the process of analyzing the full range of program options to gather insights needed to adjust course in a competitive landscape.

These insights make it easier to establish a more well-rounded portfolio by assessing the performance of current offerings and highlighting opportunities to develop new programs in high-growth, high-demand areas. An academic portfolio review may also uncover trending academic programs and innovative ways to increase non-traditional credentials or learning modalities that target untapped student markets. Leverage the following tips when assessing the efficacy of your institution’s portfolio:

  • Define goals for each existing program and create specific metrics to monitor how well programs are achieving these goals.
  • Conduct peer benchmarking to understand market saturation and learn how other colleges and universities position similar programs.
  • Choose metrics that focus on evolving labor market demands, student demand, and mission fit, to identify what types of new programs have the most potential to perform successfully and differentiate institutional identity.
Gain more insights about measuring the health of your academic offerings with our Step-by-Step Guide to a Comprehensive Academic Portfolio Review.


As enrollment patterns and student needs continue to shift, institutions must use data to make academic program decisions that capture more student interest. Leaders should invest resources in practices that help their institution create a more distinct value proposition to help stand out among peer organizations. The colleges and universities that leverage flexible learning options and alternative credentials, track real-time student demand, and step back to measure their entire portfolio’s performance are the ones that will succeed in a fluctuating higher education landscape.

Top 10 Degrees on the Rise in 2024

To ensure your college or university is offering the right mix of academic programs that will attract and retain students, it’s essential to optimize your institution’s academic portfolio.
Find out how your top academic programs compare to this list of the top 10 degrees capturing student and employer attention in 2024.
Learn how to incorporate trending academic programs into your enrollment strategy.

Related Content

Related Tags

Related Research & Insights

Become a client

Access the best custom research to help hit your organization’s goals. Request your custom consult below and a member of our team will be in touch.

Have questions? Please visit our contact page.

Let us come to you!

Receive industry insights directly in your inbox

Our newsletters are packed with helpful tips, industry guides, best practices, case studies, and more. Enter your email address below to opt in: