In response to widespread stagnation in postsecondary enrollments, many institutions look to scale their programs and attract students beyond their own backyards. And since online education makes logistical sense for delivering instruction to wider audiences, an online program is often looked at for expansion opportunities.

Yet frequently, colleges and universities don’t realize just how competitive the national online education market is. Not only are they stepping onto a court with the biggest brands in higher education, but national marketing efforts are notably costly compared to local marketing efforts. The fact of the matter is that for most institutions, online education is most successful when considered as an alternative modality for local students familiar with an institution’s brand rather than a path to the national market.

Going Local Comes with Benefits

There is a missed opportunity when institutions ignore the local online education market and jump straight to national expansion efforts. A 2016 Eduventures survey of 1000 adult learners noted that 75 percent of online adult learners aged 25-54 favor taking online courses from institutions with a local physical presence. Higher ed establishments have a leg up with local audiences—word-of-mouth, community partnerships, and the sheer physical prominence of a college campus all work in favor of their brand. Yet these benefits disappear in a national campaign, and if colleges and universities aren’t connecting with local audiences, national expansion will be an extremely uphill battle. If you want to be a national player, you must first leverage your home court advantage.

(Next page: Steps for how to take your online program local, then scale to national)


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