Boston, MA (PRWEB) March 21, 2006
In the face of stiffening competition in the online higher education market, online institutions are struggling to identify and communicate a position of competitive advantage that resonates with consumers, according to an analysis of selected online institutions’ websites by Eduventures LLC, the leading consulting and information services firm for the education market. Eduventures’ analysis is outlined in its recently released report, Competing in Online Higher Education: Positioning and Differentiation Strategies.
“The number of online programs and institutional offerings are growing at a rapid pace, educated consumers are more knowledgeable and discriminating, and institutions are targeting a broader audience that may be uncertain if not skeptical about the value proposition of online higher education,” said Richard Garrett, Senior Analyst for Eduventures’ Learning Collaborative for Online Higher Education Program, a shared-cost, member-driven research program for university leadership. “In such a market landscape, the need for a distinguishable position in the market is critical. However, in most cases, we’re just not seeing it.”
Designed to provide insights into the current state of branding of online higher education and help providers focus their efforts, the competitive analysis examined the websites of 16 leading providers of online higher education, including for-profit institutions and private and public institutions with campus-based and online programs. According to Eduventures’ previously published Assessing Program Demand in Consumer Markets, consumers regard institutional websites as the top source of information on higher education programs. Thus, the website is the core marketing resource of online providers, and a relevant barometer of an institution’s consumer messaging.
The analysis focused on eight key areas commonly highlighted as program strengths in marketing content. Those key areas include:
- Pedagogy, often a combination of statements that promote the convenience and employment relevance of online learning as well as the institution’s academic standards
- Acceleration, or the opportunity for students to accelerate the time it takes them to complete an institution’s degree program
- Accreditation, both regional (considered the “gold standard”) and program-specific (for example, an MBA program accredited by the AACSB)
- Pricing, which, although emphasized as a strong selling point among most institutions sampled, was rarely specifically compared to competitors’ pricing as a strategic advantage
- Program range, how many programs are offered and in what disciplines
- Status/experience/size, which almost all institutions highlighted as a quality indicator for their programs, although there is currently little objective criteria (“evidence”) for these assertions
- Access, how institutions serve groups (e.g. minorities, disabled) under-represented in higher education
- Performance indicators such as positive retention, graduation, and employment data.
Although all institutions highlight many of these areas as strengths or benefits to some degree, the Eduventures’ analysis showed they rarely provide concrete evidence, detail and support for their marketing statements. Additionally, they seldom compare the benefits of their own programs to those of their competitors, thus losing a potential competitive differentiator.
“The study demonstrates that providers have plenty of scope to fashion stronger differentiation strategies,” continued Mr. Garrett. “Institutions need to closely examine use of unsubstantiated claims about their online programs, and drive towards evidence-based marketing. In a more competitive environment, the online higher education marketing message must diversify beyond (undifferentiated) convenience and flexibility.”
On a number of metrics, U.S. online higher education is booming. Eduventures research estimates that, at the close of 2005, approximately 1.2 million unique students were taking 100% online higher education programs (the vast majority taking 100% online degrees), up an estimated 28% over the previous year. The most recent report from the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) estimates a total of 2.35 million unique students taking at least one 75% to 100% online course in fall 2004. This represents a year-on-year growth rate of 18.2%. The Sloan-C report also noted that significant numbers of institutions offer online programs (e.g., 44% of master’s-level institutions offer online master’s degree programs). Growth rates for online higher education greatly exceed those projected for U.S. postsecondary education overall (approximately 2%), positioning online higher education as a major growth engine.
For more than a decade, Eduventures has been the most trusted name in the education market for market research, consulting services, and peer networking. Its clients include senior administrators and executives from leading educational institutions and companies serving the K-12, higher education, and corporate learning markets, as well as decision-makers in government agencies and the investment community. For more information, visit http://www.eduventures.com.