Building Programs That Succeed

New Education Research from Lightcast

Published on Mar 17, 2023

Written by Tim Hatton

Creating successful new programs is vital in higher education, both for sharing new fields of discovery and building the foundation for future growth. By seeing which past programs have succeeded, we can understand more about how to build successful programs moving forward.

Unlocking Insights for Program Growth and Success, a new research report from Lightcast, analyzes newly-created degree programs and studies the rate at which those programs succeed—broken out by field, institution, and program type—including criteria such as in-person vs. online classes as well as comparing bachelor’s degree to master’s degree programs. 

Understanding the patterns underlying this data means having new ways to validate new programs, new ideas to improve the likelihood those programs succeed, and new ways to improve outcomes for institutions and students.

Here are five key takeaways from the research:

  1. Diverse Disciplines See Similar Growth

Programs from every field of study have similar odds of success—meaning the door is open for STEM, the humanities, and everything in between. 

2. Failing Programs are the Minority

Our findings show that around 30% of new programs see significant growth over five years while another 30% fail to continue producing graduates in the same time frame. The remaining 40% are caught in between, and a better understanding of what makes programs thrive can help guide them toward success.

3. Success Rates are Rising

The rate of success for programs has been rising over time, going from 23% in 2017 to 28% in 2021, itself an increase of 22%. However, graduates from many of these growing programs are more likely to be underemployed than their peers, suggesting the need for greater labor market alignment.

New program success rate (2017-2021)

4. Public Institutions See Greater Growth

Four-year public colleges and universities are most likely to have new programs grow, and their success rates have increased by about 32% since 2017. For smaller institutions, this highlights the importance of making intentional, data-driven decisions about launching new programs.

5. Graduate Degree Programs Perform Best
Despite having the fewest new programs launched in the time period being analyzed, master’s degree programs were most likely to succeed. Success rates there were 34%, compared to 29% for bachelor’s degree programs and 25% for associate’s degree programs.

Every new program is different, and decisions about launching them are never taken lightly. Each institution and department has its own complex set of factors and calculations to weigh when considering a new program. The data in Unlocking Insights is not meant to override any of those factors, but to help guide and validate them. 

In today's challenging landscape for higher education, it's crucial for educators and administrators to understand their students' needs both in and after school, as well as how and how their institution’s programs serve those needs. 

Labor market data, and skills data in particular, are vital tools to help higher education institutions create programs that provide reliable value for their alumni and communities. To launch successful new programs, educators must use every available tool, including learning from the past to prepare for the future, to unlock insight and success for everyone.

To dive deeper into these findings—including detailed comparisons of new programs by major, degree level, and type of institution—download the free Unlocking Insights report now.

Cover of the Unlocking Insights report

Download the report