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Empowering Institutions: Insights from Academic Strategy

Dr. Andrea Marcinkus, Director of Academic Strategy


Dr. Andrea Marcinkus


Director of Academic Strategy

Welcome to "Empowering Institutions: Insights from Academic Strategy," a Q&A session with the Director of our Academic Strategy team, Dr. Andrea Marcinkus. In this interview, we delve into the vital role academic strategy plays in driving success and empowering institutions in today's dynamic educational landscape.


Dr. Marcinkus has a wealth of knowledge and experience in this field and is able to offer valuable insights and perspectives on the strategies, initiatives, and trends that drive academic excellence.


Join us as we explore a wide range of topics, including the role of the Academic Strategy team, how their work benefits our partners, and what the future of online higher education might look like. Through this Q&A, we hope to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of how academic strategy contributes to the success and growth of institutions, and how our expertise can be leveraged to empower your own organization.

Can you please introduce yourself and provide an overview of your role with Academic Strategy?

Hi, I’m Andrea. I am the director of the Academic Strategy team. I have more than 20 years of experience working in numerous higher-education settings, including public and private universities, as well as a for-profit university. During this time, I’ve held a wide range of roles, including tenure-track professor, department director, cross-campus director of student retention, and dean of academic affairs (chief academic officer).


I have an BS in Textile Design and Engineering from Philadelphia University (now Thomas Jefferson University), an MS in Textiles and Clothing from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and a Ph.D. in Human Ecology, also from UW-Madison.


Leading Academic Strategy is really exciting work. I get to collaborate with a group of extremely talented researchers, strategists, and our partners. My team consists of academic strategists, who work directly with partners on research and consulting, and academic research analysts, who dive deep into public and our proprietary resources to help inform our work.

What are the main responsibilities and objectives of the Academic Strategy team?

Academic Strategy utilizes our deep programmatic expertise and analytics to inform program selection, expansion, and optimization for our partners. This work includes developing a program selection strategy for online development, assessing program readiness, facilitating academic change management, creating and advising on course carousels, monitoring accreditation changes, and fostering strong relationships with our partners. We also conduct key research on discipline verticals to update our internal teams and our partners and to help everyone make better decisions. 


We frequently collaborate with our sister team, Research & Insights. They use a wide range of internal and external research and analytics to understand and align to learner wants and needs, fuel innovation, plan strategy, monitor market and industry dynamics, and assess/optimize performance. 


Together, we are a powerful combination as we have formed the broader Strategy & Insights division. Working directly with our academic partners, both teams play a critical role in establishing a consistent voice of research, insights, and strategy that fuels innovation and informs decision-making. 


We contribute meaningfully to industry thought leadership that is both data-informed and future-focused.

How does the Academic Strategy team contribute to the overall mission and vision of the company?

I believe the Academic Strategy team truly differentiates us from others in this market. 


We help institutions to launch, change with market needs, and grow new and existing online programs using evidence-based research from disparate sources (including our own) and our team’s 20+ years of experience developing best practices in distance education. To do this, we keep engaged, quality learning at the center of our processes and deliver scalable, cost-saving programs to our partners, as well as consulting on how to execute these programs.

What are some of the key challenges or trends in higher education that the Academic Strategy team is currently addressing?

There is a lot of competition in online education, particularly for graduate degrees in nursing, business, and IT. As students and employers grow more comfortable with online education, coupled with the increased technology that helps online education function smoothly, more colleges and institutions have entered the market. Did you know there are over 580 online MBA programs? That’s a lot for students to choose from. How do learners find the right program for them with that kind of choice? Programs need key differentiators to help them stand out among the crowd – things like pricing strategies, niche concentrations, or unique program features.


Launching emerging programs is another strategy. These can be a little riskier, but we have seen the huge potential of early-to-market programs as the sub-discipline matures. We help our partners develop evidence-informed strategies fueled by our research of a variety of sources, including our own research.


Another challenge is the increase in short-form education. Coursera, Udemy, and others offer short-form courses and certificates that can compete with university programs.  Added to this are companies such as LinkedIn Learning, Amazon, and Microsoft that are directly offering training.


Despite this, learners trust the education they receive from colleges and universities over these other options. Google research in 2022 found that students are 56% more likely to consider a university program over others. Colleges and universities, however, can struggle with finding the right program for the right students – industry moves quickly with changing job needs. The academy can move slowly, while the competition can pivot with the increasing need for upskilling and reskilling in the job market.


Academic Strategy helps our partners navigate through this by identifying key job skills and predicting those skills that will be needed in the future. We can help our partners translate the skills into programs, concentrations, certificates, and courses that address the learner’s needs.

How does your team stay informed about the latest developments and best practices in higher education?

We are constantly reading and researching ways to stay up to date on the latest in key degree areas. We attend conferences and follow professional associations. Of course, we also pay attention to the publicly available data from a variety of sources, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. We also subscribe to some key tools that allow us to parse through millions of points of job market data and online competitors.

Are there any exciting upcoming projects or initiatives that the Academic Strategy team is working on and would like to share?

This year we will have detailed market analysis reports available for the following key verticals: Business (non-MBA), MBA, Nursing, IT, Data Science & Analytics, Counseling & Social Work, Public Health, and Healthcare. 


We are pulling data and information from a variety of sources as well as our own. We partnered with the Research & Insights team to do our own research about student learning values from learners in these programs and/or are considering a program in one of these verticals. These reports will start to become available in the last half of the year and can help partners get a snapshot of the market and our point of view about emerging trends within each vertical.