Academic program stewardship


Academic program stewardship

March 01, 2022

Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship logo

Jon Bruner, William McDonnell and Sarah Simpson

University of Kentucky

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

The question: How to understand the true costs of new academic program opportunities and the considerations for sun-setting programs.

As institutions look to create new programs and/or enhance existing programs, it is important to ensure that all efforts are aligned with the overarching mission and direction of the institution. Rankings and other discipline-specific reputational markers also influence the creation of new programs. Institutions also look to create and stabilize programs that draw significant enrollment, tuition revenue, and investment funding.

We need to assess new program success. The key measures we have found to consider are:

  • Market/demand analysis
  • Revenue/cost analysis
  • What skills will students gain from completing the program?
  • What jobs exist for graduates?

Time to degree, student retention, and persistence need to be closely monitored. Are there barriers to overcome that extend their time?

We need to understand the true costs of programs on our campuses. In some cases, we can take for granted the full cost of adding a new program in terms of student recruitment costs, retention, additional instructional costs, the IT infrastructure and space. What does prioritizing growth in one unit cost another unit?

At the University of Kentucky, internal and external reviews for new academic programs take place simultaneously with each focusing on different aspects. The internal review process is focused more on curriculum and content of the program while the external review process is focused more on market data, projected faculty needs, revenues, expenses, enrollment, mission statement, objectives, and rationale.

At various stages during the evaluation process, the new program proposals are shared with the other Kentucky public institutions to comment and discuss viability of the program and whether or not it could cannibalize other programs in the state. Only after new programs are approved by the Board of Trustees do the proposals advance to the Council on Postsecondary Education for approval.

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There are numerous pitfalls when establishing new academic programs that can lead to delays or program rejections. Institutional and governmental bureaucracy must be managed effectively to respond to emerging market opportunities. At the same time, institutions need to be mindful of how new programs impact their university mission and other academic programs. Even under ideal circumstances, institutions must be able to successfully model anticipated program capacity as well as direct and indirect costs.

Effective academic program stewardship should be inclusive of regular academic program reviews. Academic program reviews should evaluate enrollment trends, pipeline metrics, and general market analysis. In addition, with the increase and rapid change of online academic programs, academic program reviews need to consider adding additional criteria that allow predictive insights into student success and reviewing each program with greater frequency.

This approach should enable an institution to better adapt to market changes and financial pressures to identify academic programs in need of investment or divestment. For academic programs headed toward divestment, institutions need to consider whether several academic programs should be merged and how they will provide existing students with paths to graduation.

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Jon Bruner, William McDonnell, Sarah Simpson, and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021

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