The upcoming CIC CAO conference in New Orleans brings to mind a recent white paper Dr. Robert Sevier and I wrote on the topic of academic portfolio management. This year’s conference theme, “New Realities, New Solutions,” succinctly captures the driving the idea behind that publication: Today, institutional success requires a deeper level of intention, integration, and market awareness.
Particularly when it comes to academic portfolio management, a new day requires a new way of thinking. Rather than a fragmented, trial-and-error approach, progress takes careful alignment of mission and vision, resources, and marketplace demand.
Aligning Academic Programs with the Marketplace: 5 Options
Since every institution faces its own unique challenges, resource levels, and regional market realities, a one-size-fits-all approach to portfolio management simply won’t work. Here are five options to help you more effectively align your institution’s academic portfolio with today’s marketplace.
Option 1: Evaluation of Existing Academic Programs. In this evaluation, our teams focus on 30 or so variables divided among the following categories:
- Quality: Using Stamats’ Academic Satisfaction Inventory™, we examine more than 26 dimensions of the student experience, including student satisfaction levels, course content, advising, and career and graduate school placement.
- Marketplace demand: We weigh student interest in various academic programs with the understanding that high-demand/high-profit programs are necessary to offset costs of those that have lower demand.
- Program cost and revenue: A standard part of most schools’ fiscal tracking, the value of cost and revenue data is its relationship to quality and demand measurements. The juxtaposition between these indicators can provide important evaluative insights.
A crucial part of this assessment is Stamats’ ability to weigh multiple variables to help clients better understand “what-if” scenarios. For example, dynamic modeling can anticipate how improvements in advising or scheduling could increase program demand.
Option 2: Identification of New Academic Programs. This option involves the identification of new academic programs and their relationship to the job market based upon regional and national data sources, including the following:
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation and Industry Projects
- Digest of Education Statistics
The analysis produces a constellation of potential new programs, each of which must then be vetted for appropriateness for your institution. For example, does the program fit with your mission and vision? Do you have the faculty in place to support it?
Option 3: Developing a Business Plan for New Majors. Without a clear business plan in place, an institution’s impetus for new programs will likely be driven by faculty rather than by the marketplace—an approach that often results in under-capitalized programs that aren’t supported by a strong market response. Developing a business plan for new majors helps avoid these pitfalls by focusing on four key decision areas:
- Strategy: How will the program advance your mission and vision? Will it draw resources away from other critical areas?
- The marketplace: Is the program offered by your competitors? Has the idea been tested with prospective students and employers?
- Economy and resources: Have realistic cost/revenue projections been created?
- Marketing and promotion: Does your recruiting team understand the new program? Do you have a viable prospective student list in place?
Option 4: Creation of New, Hybrid Majors from Existing Programs. An often overlooked method of aligning academic portfolios with the marketplace is through the creation of new programs from existing ones. To illustrate, one of our clients recently developed a master’s degree program in entrepreneurial engineering by leveraging courses from two established programs: business and engineering.
Though the hybrid approach is innovative, each potential new program must still be carefully vetted and supported with objective market data.
Option 5: Identification of Keystone Programs. For our purposes, keystone programs refer to those programs colleges and universities choose to market more aggressively. This strategy is attractive because it’s driven by several truths:
- Swarming resources around a limited number of programs is more likely to make an impact in the marketplace.
- When executed successfully, this approach tends to boost campus confidence in the concept of a more market-centric academic programming strategy.
- This method often produces a rising-tides effect. All programs benefit from well-delineated, high-demand, high-profit keystone offerings.
It’s important for colleges and universities to begin to view their academic portfolios as they would any financial portfolio—an asset that performs best when it’s goal-driven, strategic, and actively managed. Particularly in today’s challenging recruiting environment, market-aligned academic portfolios are fundamental tools that support a host of promotional, enrollment, and retention goals.
At Stamats, we offer a full suite of services to help colleges and universities develop more informed academic strategies, reach new audiences, and thrive in today’s competitive marketplace.
Interested in learning more? Download the full white paper on Managing Your Academic Portfolio or call me directly at 319-861-5085.