Launching and sustaining a successful online program takes more than just a great idea. It requires careful planning, a solid understanding of the numbers, and a clear vision for the student experience. Three essential tools – the pro forma, enrollment cascades, and course sequence cascades – offer institutions a multi-faceted lens through which to plan, analyze, and make data-powered decisions when establishing and scaling online programs.

1. The Pro Forma: Your Financial Roadmap

Think of a pro forma as the financial blueprint for your online program. It’s a model that projects your expected multi-year revenue, expenses, and profitability. A well-crafted pro forma helps answer these critical questions:

  • Feasibility: Can this program sustain itself financially? When will it break even?
  • Resource Allocation: Where should I invest most heavily? Where can I optimize resources?
  • Decision-Making: Should we go ahead? Having hard financial data helps avoid costly mistakes
  • Scenario Planning: What happens if enrollment is lower than expected? What if we raise the tuition?
  • Funding: A robust pro forma can attract internal or external funding.

2. Enrollment Cascades: Tracking Your Students’ Journey

An enrollment cascade charts the progress of student cohorts throughout the program. It reveals where students might be struggling, dropping out, or thriving. Here’s what an enrollment cascade tells you:

  • Bottlenecks: Are there high drop-off points? This is a red flag for problems with course design, advising, or support.
  • Targeted Interventions: Pinpointing student attrition allows for customized support to get them back on track.
  • Data, not Guesswork: Enrollments cascades drive investment in the resources that make the biggest impact .
  • Predicting the Future: Enrollment trends help you anticipate how many students you’ll need to support each year – forecasting faculty, facilities, and budget needs.

3. Course Sequence Cascades: Ensuring a Smooth Progression

A course sequence cascade visualizes how students flow through the series of required courses in your program. It reveals crucial insights:

  • Faculty Bottlenecks: Do some courses have too few sections, preventing student progress?
  • Optimized Teaching Resources: This data shows where to strategically add instructors or course sections.
  • Proactive Planning: Rather than scrambling when courses fill up, course cascades anticipate demand.
  • Space and Resources: Helps determine optimal space allocation (for hybrid elements), software licensing needs, and more.

The Power of Combining the Three

When you bring these three tools together, you get a powerful, holistic picture of your online program’s health:

  • Understanding Roadblocks: Is a drop-off point due to financial problems (the pro forma), poor course design (enrollment cascade), or simply not enough course seats available (course sequence cascade)?
  • Informed Budgeting: See where to allocate resources for both student support AND faculty hiring.
  • Optimized Experience: Identify and eliminate chokepoints in your students’ journey for greater satisfaction and retention.


  • Pro formas rely on assumptions – use realistic projections and revisit them often.
  • None of these are static! Revise your models as needed based on new data.


Building successful online programs is about more than just having great content. These data-driven tools empower educational leaders to make strategic, informed decisions that ensure a program’s financial health, optimize the student experience, and build long-term sustainability. By utilizing a pro forma, enrollment cascades, and course sequence cascades, institutions pave the way for the successful delivery and growth of their online learning initiatives.