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U of P a brilliantly executed market opportunity scan-pt1

Illustration of a Market Opportunity Scan

by Kenneth Rudich

As discussed in an earlier post, the market opportunity scan (MOS) encourages an organized approach for assessing the marketplace.  In value chain marketing, it includes the combining of a market characteristics analysis with an external forces analysis.

While it is advisable for every business to periodically perform an MOS, it is especially prudent for a start-up to execute an MOS prior to opening its doors (be they virtual or real). 

In this three-part series, we’ll look at an example of a start-up business that came into being on the heels of what can arguably be described as a brilliantly executed MOS.  By the time we’re finished, you should have a clearer idea about the purpose of an MOS, and how to properly conduct one. 

the U of P market opportunity scan background 

Turn back the clock for U.S. higher education to the early 1970’s.  Up to that point in time, and for more than a century before it, the nation’s universities primarily focused on educating 18-24 year olds.  Virtually everything about these higher education institutions, including the systems that supported them, was geared toward serving that age group and that age group alone.

This is not to imply that other age groups were necessarily excluded from obtaining access to a college education.  Exclusion would not be the exact right word.  After all, older adults were frequently granted admission.

One need only point to President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the G.I. Bill of Rights in 1944, at the close of World War II, for evidence of this.  Many historians credit this governmental policy with saving the country from slipping into a deep economic crisis due runaway unemployment among the returning servicemen.  The education and training they received as a result of the G.I. Bill helped to transform the war-based economy into one able to serve the nation’s peacetime domestic needs.

So exclusion is clearly not the right word when it came to adult higher education.  But neither is inclusion a good one to use in its place.  In reality, the huge influx of adults from the G.I. Bill was something of a blip on the radar screen, and it did little to actually change the modus operandi of traditional higher education.  The aim of developing residential programs specifically designed for 18-24 year olds remained intact, and by the early 1970’s that objective had become as strong as ever.  

Older adults who were granted admission to these schools frequently found themselves feeling treated more like unwanted step children than cherished community members.  They were trying to fit into a system intended for someone else, like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

If you think about it, what does a thirty or forty-something year old, with a family to care for and a job to keep, have in common with a residential campus student straight out of high school?  Whereas one group consists of adults that are still under construction, the other consists of fully and firmly established adults with a quite separate set of concerns and needs.  In a lot cases, they don’t even seem to speak the same language.   

Consider this adult student’s answer to an opinion survey conducted about one institution’s so-called adult program.  After indicating that the institution did not seem committed to serving adults, the respondent went on to observe, “I have had no problem completing my desired objective, but I feel it occurred in spite of the program, not because of it.”

This kind of higher education experience became all too common among older and working adults seeking to complete or further their education.

a 1970’s market opportunity scan

What does the 1970’s have to do with this timeline?

Enter a man by the name of John Sperling at San Jose State University in California.  He and his associates began to seriously apply themselves to solving this problem during the early 1970’s.  They conducted a market opportunity scan to determine if a better product could be fashioned for serving the needs and motives of the adult student, and if it could be done in manner that would be economically viable over time.

In case you don’t already know, John Sperling founded the for-profit University of Phoenix in 1976.  The first class consisted of only eight students.  Today it has more than 200 campuses and learning centers worldwide and online education with over 100 degree programs.  It has a student body in the U.S. that is only second to the State University of New York, and its total student body is approaching 500,000.

All of which begs the question, what did John Sperling see while performing the market opportunity scan in the 1970’s, and what can the rest of us learn from his experience? 

We’ll start to carefully flesh out the answer to that question in part 2 of this series, which will be published in the next post to MSM.  See you then.   


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