Considering a New Academic Program? Use Our Checklist to Decide

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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There are few endeavors that have greater financial and political risk (but also potential reward) than identifying and launching a new academic program.

To help reduce the risk, we offer a set of key questions to pose both inside and outside the institution for critical examination.

New Academic Program Checklist

Internally, consider this checklist of questions:

  1. Is the proposed program consistent with our mission and vision?
  2. Is the proposed program consistent with the strength and core competencies of the department? If not, can these be reasonably developed?
  3. Will the new program allow us to leverage existing faculty/curriculum/facility assets?
  4. Will this program require a lengthy and perhaps uncertain accreditation process?
  5. Is the proposed program sustainable on a long-term basis? If not, what is the projected life expectancy of the proposed program?
  6. Do faculty support the proposed program?
  7. Has a faculty leader (“champion”) with sufficient bandwidth been identified and associated with the proposed program?
  8. Can the proposed program serve as an anchor for other potential, corollary programs?
  9. In what format(s) will the proposed program be offered (e.g., traditional face-to-face, hybrid, online)?
  10. Are you confident we can deliver a top-quality program?
  11. Will the proposed program attract a type/cohort of student that we are well equipped to serve?
  12. Are the new student/cohort numbers and financial projections for the proposed program realistic?
  13. Are start-up costs affordable and sustainable?
  14. What are the realistic expectations for break-even and revenue generation for the proposed program and over what time frame?
  15. Will the proposed program offer us a clear point of compelling differentiation?
  16. Will the proposed program attract new students or compete with existing programs for students?
  17. Is the proposed program free from duplication or competition with a current or planned program within the institution?
  18. Does the proposed program have a high barrier to entry (e.g., if successful, will it be difficult for competitors to replicate)?
  19. If successful, can we easily enlarge capacity and grow the proposed program?
  20. Will the proposed program require excessive political capital to launch?
  21. Will the proposed program enhance our academic reputation in the marketplace?

Externally, determine answers to these questions:

  1. Do we have clear marketplace data that the proposed program is in demand?
  2. Are graduates from the proposed program in demand by employers?
  3. Does the proposed program allow for co-branding opportunities with other entities?

Making Your Decision

Finally, here are three additional thoughts.

First, no program will get a “thumbs up” on all these points. The goal is to identify those programs that receive many more yeses than nos.

Second, use these questions to vet and score just a handful of potential programs so you can select the one with the greatest potential for success. This is much more effective and efficient than screening a single program, deciding, and then considering the next program. Choosing from a constellation saves time and heightens the likelihood for success.

Finally, it is extremely important, regardless of the program selected for pursuit, to ask: Do we have sufficient funding to successfully launch and then aggressively recruit students to the program? If the answer is no, no matter how amazing the new program might be, success will be greatly hampered without strong marketing investment and support—for years (not weeks or months).

If you need help addressing these questions (and/or determining how to launch a new program), please reach out to me at [email protected]. Stamats has a comprehensive set of insights and services to help clients identify and promote new academic programs.

Read Next: Student Communication Plan Fundamentals for Higher Education

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