Skip navigation
EAB Logo Navigate to the EAB Homepage Navigate to EAB home
Research Report

Rightsizing the Program Portfolio Study

Executive imperatives for balancing revitalization and discontinuance

Download this study for resources to support a more effective review and revitalization of your campus’s academic program portfolio.

A balanced program portfolio advances the institutional mission, responds to market demands, and contributes to the bottom line. But without an effective method to review and realign the portfolio, institutions face an ongoing drain on their financial and reputational resources.

This study offers four imperatives for transforming the program review process—laying the groundwork for either revitalization or discontinuance in the context of shared governance.

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.

Learn More

Four imperatives to guide campus leaders

Imperative 1: Assemble the right data for regular program health and performance conversations

Annual program check-ins assess health, reward progress, and identify areas of concern. The goal is to offer an accurate snapshot of program health without over-taxing data collection capabilities. Successful institutions build these reviews using three types of program-level data: enrollment totals and trends; financial contribution; and department performance indicators.

Supporting resources

Academic vital signs

Takes the guesswork out of department performance indicators, showing how to link institution-level goals (like enrollment growth and student outcomes) to 14 department-level metrics that faculty leaders can actually track and influence. Download the study.

Six principles of annual reviews

Provides a quick-hit rubric for campus leaders designing effective and action-oriented checkups on program health. Download the resource.

Learn More

Imperative 2: Provide watch-list programs structured guidance and a set period of time to improve

When an annual review flags programs in need of support, academic stakeholders and those with necessary marketing, enrollment, and curricular expertise must partner together to design a path toward health. Campus leaders should set expectations early about the time programs have to show signs of improvement before other end-states are considered.

Supporting resources

University of Wisconsin-Madison's policy on low award producing academic programs

Prompts units to investigate under-enrolled programs and create a formal improvement plan when ongoing investment is merited. Download the resource.

Rochester Institute of Technology's annual academic program analysis process

Outlines performance expectations against enrollment, financial, learning outcome, and student success metrics, as well as next steps for programs flagged for additional review. Download the resource.

New program launch guidebook

Designed to help campuses starting new academic programs but can also help here, as the guidance on market demand, program design, and marketing is equally useful for program revitalization. Download the toolkit.

Learn More

Imperative 3: Increase resource flexibility in parallel to program redesign

Campus leaders often have a defeatist attitude about their ability to save money by closing programs, given the perception of “fixed” faculty costs. But with enough advanced notice, administrators can set the stage for resource reallocation through the strategic deployment of faculty buyouts, retirement pathways, and vacated line control.

Supporting resources

American council on education's faculty retirement policy rubric

Provides a maturity model for institutional support of faculty nearing and transitioning into retirement. Download the resource.

University of California at Los Angeles' pathways to retirement

Offers faculty a two-year plan to ease into retirement while pursuing tailored research, teaching, and service opportunities. Review the resource below:

Learn More

Imperative 4: Ensure program discontinuance minimizes stakeholder disruption and maximizes cost savings

While regular review and revitalization efforts will ideally bolster the program portfolio, discontinuance is sometimes the only viable option for a program that continues to underperform against expectations. In that scenario, clear policies and procedures on program closure and teach-out are crucial to ensure a minimally disruptive sunsetting process for faculty and students.

Supporting resources

Program discontinuance policies

Policies must be in place long before any closures to guard against unnecessary risk. In conjunction with the high-level policy audit in the research brief, the examples below can be helpful for reviewing existing policies or creating new ones.

Teach-out policies

Policies must also be considered now to avoid details falling through the cracks later, particularly given the desire to provide maximum support for students. Use the policy audit and rubrics in the research briefing, as well as the examples below, to design a teach-out plan.

This resource requires EAB partnership access to view.

Access the research report

Learn how you can get access to this resource as well as hands-on support from our experts through Strategic Advisory Services.

Learn More

Already a Partner?

Partner Log In