As state spending on higher education tightens and affordability concerns escalate, colleges and universities must ensure that all academic programs achieve peak enrollment performance—and that they’re appropriately resourced. Students’ increasing preferences for career-oriented degree tracks have exacerbated the resource allocation challenge. Program enrollment patterns favor professional degree tracks over the arts and humanities, which results in considerable unused capacity.
To ensure academic programs maintain relevance and enrollment, institution leaders must consider market demand when assessing performance. Academic programs should be accountable for serving the academic and career needs of today’s prospective students.
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Despite its importance, few institutions consider enrollment performance in the academic program review process. For those that do, it’s rarely robust and does not include the enrollment manager’s (EM's) oversight, insight, and perspective. Progressive institutions have started to call on enrollment managers to bring “the voice of the market” to the academic program review process—elevating enrollment management as a key player in the review process.
“EMs should be playing a role in helping to advise our academic leadership that enrollment and tuition revenue are real measures in today's competitive world of enrollment. I told the deans, programs have to be tested by the market. A good program designed by two faculty sitting in their offices sharing hobbies, without ever asking what 18-year-olds think, is doomed to failure.”
VP for Enrollment Management, University of Delaware
The 5-minute viability review addresses under-enrollment
Under pressure to prove the enrollment productivity of academic programs, Virginia Tech’s enrollment management team assessed each program’s full-time enrollment and degrees conferred. This initial enrollment viability review identified 25 programs that fell below institutional standards for resource utilization. That meant that 33% of all program offerings were under threat of closure by the state system.
This alarming outcome drove academic leadership to mandate annual enrollment viability reviews for all academic programs. Enrollment management and department chairs agree on initial targets for total enrollment, student credit-hours, and degrees conferred; enrollment management’s involvement in target-setting ensures that initial targets are realistic and reflect external market demand and the institution’s enrollment goals.
At the conclusion of each year’s admissions cycle, enrollment management assesses programs’ enrollment performance benchmarked against their initial goals. The assessment pinpoints struggling programs, which must then collaborate with enrollment management to turn enrollments around—or face gradual closure (i.e., sunsetting).
EM minimizes the number of enrollment targets and deploys standardized, easy-to-use review templates to streamlines the review process. The Office of Institutional Research provides each year’s program-level enrollment data. Each program’s enrollment review takes less than five minutes annually—just six hours per year for the entire program portfolio.
The Bare Minimum: Sustainable Process Limits Review to Core Metrics
Outsized ROI: Maximal portfolio benefits with minimal EM investment
Virginia Tech’s annual enrollment viability assessments ensure that market strength and enrollment performance are a regular and consistent part of every program evaluation.
Impact of enrollment awareness
76% reduction in undergraduate programs flagged after two years
Additionally, the mandate orients faculty to the importance of enrollment and revenue, underscoring the importance of enrollment for institutional health and efficient resource deployment. Now that faculty are aware that program enrollment is a top priority, they are more motivated to engage in recruitment and yield opportunities or to make programs more prospect-friendly. Per Wanda Dean, Virginia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment and Degree Management, “Now faculty all want to be involved in the admissions process. The focused attention does overwhelm our admissions staff at times—it’s almost too much love!”
The result for Virginia Tech has been a revitalized academic program portfolio with greater marketplace viability, with the large majority of programs now operating at full capacity.
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