Enhancing the Marketability of Your Academic Programs

Becky Morehouse

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I’ll start with three things  I absolutely know are true. First, your most important strategic asset is the array of academic programs you offer.  

Rationale: While students are attracted to a school for many reasons, the most consistent, and universal, reason is whether or not you offer the academic program(s) of interest to them.  

Second, it is imperative that your academic programs be compelling to the marketplace. 

Not sure if they are? Check your discount rate. The higher your discount rate the less students value your programs.   

Rationale: If students do not find your programs compelling, you will need to offer significant financial aid to build enrollment.  

Third, it is critical that the array of programs you offer be different than those offered by your less expensive competitors.  

Rationale: If the marketplace perceives your programs as similar to—or worse,  similar to—those of your competitors then they will base their decision on price.  

10 ways to enhance the marketability of your academic programs.   

1. Identify five signature academic programs.

These are the programs that you do well, prospective students know you do well, and your competitors do not do (well or at all). These programs should also offer high margin, be difficult for your competitors to launch, and lead to high(er) paying jobs.   

2. Build your brand around those programs.

Rather than building your brand around your name, build your brand around a handful of programs tied to your name. This allows you to create powerful brand associations and extensions.   

3. Write a business plan for each proposed new major.

Always consider new programs in batches of three. Why three programs at the same time? If you explore only one program you will likely decide to roll out that program because of the investment you made. If you consider three programs at the same time you are more likely to select the one that offers the greatest potential.  The business plan should address four areas: 

  • Strategic fit  
  • Marketplace interest  
  • Economic and resource demands  
  • Promotion and marketing strategies

4. Develop, manage, and promote the new program based on the 20 or so variables that define the academic experience.  

Please contact me for a list of these variables. Or if you prefer, we can help you create the list for your specific students.   

5. Shorten time to degree. 

The longer it takes a student to graduate the less likely they will graduate. Also, a shortened time to degree means you have effectively lowered the overall cost of college.   

6. Build on the BA.

Go for dual majors or four- or five-year BA/MA combinations. Even 2+2 programs. Help increase the bang that students get for their tuition buck.   

7. Be more click than brick.  

In other words,  make sure you clearly have the best online experience in your competitive cohort. This pandemic has shown us how major disruptions can rattle our foundations. Schools that are good at online education will be in a better position for the next Covid-19.   

8. Build internship and co-op opportunities for all your programs. 

Most students are very job and outcomes oriented. Help them get a leg up on their peers by introducing them to the job market, and vice versa, before they graduate.  

9. Make undecided a major.

Prospective students and parents must know you are not only willing to help the undecideds, but that you are motivated and well-equipped to help.  

10. Increase transferability.

More and more students are starting out at two-year schools and the more effectively you identify, recruit, and retain transfer students the better your enrollment.  

Reach out to me if you need any of the resources cited above or if you would like help increasing the marketability of your academic programs.  

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