Unlocking Insights for Program Growth and Success

Helping colleges and universities learn from the past to build a better future

Cover image from Unlocking Insights Report, showing keys, locks, and a college/university building.

What can higher education learn from the 30% of new programs that succeed — and the 30% that don’t?

Lightcast analyzed over 8,000 academic programs, looking at success across different dimensions, from completions to career outcomes. What we find provides reason for both caution, and hope. Most importantly, it provides insight that can guide future curriculum and program decisions at colleges and universities across the nation.

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From the report

There are similar numbers of growing and failing programs. Around 30% of new programs see significant growth over their first five years while another 30% fail to continue producing graduates in the same time frame (and 40% fall somewhere in between).


of programs see significant growth in their first five years


of programs fail to continue producing graduates in that same time frame


of programs continue producing graduates, but don't grow significantly

Success isn't limited to STEM

Growing academic programs cover a diverse range of subject areas, demonstrating that the door to success is open to any discipline.

Top five new academic programs with the highest chance of success.

Risk of failure is widely distributed

New programs in areas ranging from philosophy to engineering can experience relatively high rates of failure. Contrary to conventional wisdom, humanities programs in general do NOT fail significantly more than STEM programs.

Top five new academic programs with the highest risk of failure.

Success rates are trending up

From 2017 to 2021, the rate of success for newly launched academic programs has been rising overall. Online programs had higher rates of success during that time, but experienced a slight dip in 2020 before recovering in 2021.

Line chart showing that new online academic programs have had higher success rates over the past five years vs. in-person classes (but that the success rate for ALL new programs has been trending up!).
Cover of the Unlocking Insights report

Download the report