To remain financially sustainable alongside ever-present cost and enrollment pressures, colleges and universities must better manage a balanced program portfolio that advances the institutional mission, responds to market demands, and contributes to the bottom line. To this end, campus leaders are already beginning to think more critically about the programs that they launch, knowing that the “if we build it, they will come” days are over.
But it’s not just new programs that must present a clear value proposition to warrant continued investment. Unchecked academic proliferation without sufficient alignment to student demand and market needs has also led to significant consequences, both in terms of fixed costs (e.g., instructor salaries, space, impact on central resources) and hidden, “soft” costs (e.g., underutilized teaching capacity, under-enrolled niche courses, redundant administrative support).
The data above from EAB’s Academic Performance Solutions shows that many institutions maintain a glut of programs with few graduates. Cutting a blank check to these low-revenue programs is no longer feasible. Yet, unlike the enthusiasm generated by launching new programs, efforts to reevaluate existing offerings frequently trigger pushback. Absent an effective strategy to review and realign the academic program portfolio, institutions risk the gradual depletion of their financial and reputational resources.
In need of a new approach
EAB endorses a holistic approach to academic program review that fosters a continuous improvement mindset, rather than relying on politically difficult one-off efforts. Regular program assessments identify struggling programs early. Ideally, these interventions will translate to improvements. However, when revitalization is not successful, this method also eases the path toward downsizing or discontinuance. These decisions are never easy—and only with careful planning and communication can campuses expect to realize savings and reinvest resources into growth areas.
Four imperatives to guide campus leaders
Four imperatives, listed below, guide campuses in better managing the program portfolio. While the locus of decision-making will differ from campus to campus, academic and business leaders alike must work together to ensure the long-term health of the academic program portfolio.
Download the report to begin crafting a more sustainable program review cadence
EAB’s Rightsizing the Program Portfolio walks through each of these imperatives and includes examples and tools for how campuses are implementing supporting tactics on their campuses. Business leaders should use this information to evaluate and improve upon existing program review and revitalization processes.