Essential Questions to Guide New Program Development

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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Historically, the identification of new academic programs was a sequential—and often internally-focused—process. The faculty decided what new programs to offer, and in a passing-of-the-baton, marketing and recruiting was tasked with making the sale.

The result was a strategic disconnect that led to new programs that had high internal interest, but low interest in the marketplace.

Shift in Decision Making

But today is a new day! We are finding more often that the voice of marketing is brought to the product development table. Early on, when faculty begin talking about new programs—or what existing programs to push—marketers can respond with data on student interest, competitor offerings, employment trends, and even pricing.

Of course, this represents a huge paradigm shift. Faculty have long believed that decisions about what academic programs to offer falls solely to them and they are seldom comfortable with giving marketing a peek into the inner sanctum.

But if you examine your track record for new program launches—and the importance of getting it right the first time—isn’t it time for a paradigm shift to occur?

Over the years, I have found a dozen or so questions essential to guide the new program development process.

Essential Questions

  1. First, is this program something we can offer well? Do we have sufficient resources (dollars, facilities, faculty, etc.) or will it require significant investment? Of all the programs we could offer, does this one have the best chance for success?
  1. Will the program be led by a powerful faculty leader? Do they have the time and political acumen to champion this new program? Are they invested in the new program?
  1. Is this a logical extension of an existing program (always less risky) or does it take us in a new direction (generally more risky)?
  1. Can we build a constellation of other programs around this program to help build synergy and marketplace momentum and interest?
  1. Will this program be of sufficient quality that it will help enhance or build our brand? Will it attract both marketplace (students and employers) and media interest?
  1. Have we clearly identified potential student interest in this program? Have we clearly identified potential employer interest in this program (or the skills and knowledge its graduates offer)? Are there identified gaps in our marketplace that are not being fulfilled based on these interests that this new program can address?
  1. Will this program attract a student audience who historically may not have been interested in our institution? Or would we simply be cannibalizing students for this new program who might already be attending?
  1. Does this new program provide an opportunity to succeed in new (or broader) geographic markets?
  1. Who else offers this program in our target market? Will our program be sufficiently different and compelling to attract students in sufficient numbers to succeed?
  1. Can we offer this program at an attractive price point? In an attractive format? With attractive outcomes? Price, place, and alumni success must be demonstrated and supported.
  1. Will this program create the possibility of co-branding opportunities with employers, other institutions, or well-known entities?
  1. Finally, do we have the time, talent, and financial resources to effectively market this new program? Do we have a planned and supported launch strategy and then ongoing (and long-term) marketing and recruitment campaign(s) to attract and enroll students?

Enjoying Success

When faculty and marketing work together on the identification and launching of new academic programs you can have greater confidence that your new programs will be successful.

I’m here to help! Contact me at [email protected]

Read Next: Considering a New Academic Program? Use Our Checklist to Decide

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