The Academic Plan must be the center of any Strategic Plan for an Institution of Higher Education. It serves as the ‘Master’ Academic Plan because “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!” It can also be termed the Academic Master Plan because it translates institutional mission and vision into action and establishes the strategic terms and conditions for the development of all things academic. An Academic Master Plan by its nature is dynamic and in a constant state of evolution. If it is not constantly being nurtured, developed, and aligned with emerging changes in the global learning ecosystem then it is in decline. If it is in decline then, the institution is either in decline or not far behind. There are many moving parts, and they must work together.
The Master Academic Plan is essential to the process of fostering institutional vitality and fiscal health. Enabling the future requires that the conceptual framework of the MAP be future focused evolving changes in the learning ecosystem into academic strategies. The future focus is established in the institutional strategic plan. The first four posts in this series addressed this requirement by highlighting four pivotal strategies:
- Change the Paradigm
- Focus on Value
- Develop Capacity, and
- Make Everything Count.
The Master Academic Plan must enable the academic enterprise to lead on the pathway to institutional vitality and fiscal health. The Master Academic Plan establishes the foundation for the future by guiding and enabling development of the institutions supporting tactical plans, such as:
- Enrollment Management Plan,
- Digital Learning Environment Plan
- Systems and Technology Plan
- Human Resources Plan
- Assessment Plan
- Financial Plan
- Campus Master Plan
Conversely, each of these plans supports, nurture, and are essential to the success of the master academic plan and the institutions strategic plan.
The Master Academic Plan (MAP)
The concept of a Master Academic Plan can appear daunting at first. Remember all of the elements are currently and in some way already in play and underway. The first step is collecting all of the various pieces, aligning them and reviewing their intent and impact based upon assumptions about the future and the strategic direction desired. The MAP more than any other planning effort establishes the foundation for fiscal sustainability. “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!”
Fiscal stability starts with first determining the critical mass required to support the facilities and basic human capital required to operate a college. Critical mass is the minimum enrollment the institution requires to sustain operations (Hint: it is larger than you think). The MAP guides enrollment goal setting when synthesized with the financial plan and the enrollment management plan.
The second step requires understanding the theory and practice of managing the margin (see “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!” post).
The third step is key to fiscal stability is also outlined in that post, curriculum drives enrollment, the MAP drives curriculum.
About the Master Academic Plan
The Master Academic Plan provides a cohesive central point of reference for all things academic. The Master Academic Plan serves several primary functions:
- it unambiguously establishes a basic framework for the academic enterprise, and defines structures, relationships and terms;
- it clearly articulates academic philosophies and their relationship to and with curriculum, learners, scholarship, research, and public service;
- it defines the academic enterprise including organizational structures, such as management and governance; academic cycles, calendars, and major events;
- it establishes the curricular architecture and the evolutionary path it will take to optimize the emerging global digital learning environment;
- it provides specific academic contexts for the institution at large to align (hence designation “master”) their plans, processes, and initiatives;
- it translates the institutional strategic plan into academic language and concepts and translates academic realities into broad institutional contexts providing the foundation for the institutional strategic plan.
Institutional Mission, Vision & Strategic Position
The institutional mission informs and establishes a foundation for the Master Academic Plan. The reverse is also true the MAP serves as a foundation to review and reflect upon the mission and how it is written and conveyed by institutional planning and operations. The mission should address the purpose, scope and focus of the institution. The MAP fills in the details and translates the mission into an academic entity.
Academic Missions, Visions and Strategies
The institutional mission, while preeminent, is not the only mission in an academic institution. Schools, colleges, departments, institutes, and programs have missions as well. A Vision establishes the trajectory of the academic enterprise. In other words where is it headed comparatively and competitively with respect to the education sphere. The vision also provides a point of reference to evaluate strategies, goals, objectives, initiatives, policies, processes, and procedures. The vision provides an interpretive framework for processing assessments.
Making academic philosophies explicit helps clarify the intent and overall culture of the institution. Academic philosophies help make the enterprise more understandable and decisions more interpretable by academics, administrators, learners, constituents and evaluators. Academic philosophies are not mutually exclusive, but rather a collage of foundational belief’s that nurture the academic enclaves that sustain them. Articulating the range of academic philosophies makes it clear that their are more than one at work in an institution and the MAP provides the means for them to blend and cooperate.
Examples of Academic Philosophies
(philosophies ultimately drive the design of the academic enterprise)
- Liberal Arts
- Community of Practice
- Evidence Based Practice
- …to suggest a few
Academic Scope and Focus
The array of schools or colleges, programs of study, institutes, and learning communities define an institution’s scope and focus. The strategic position an institution will achieve in a global learning marketplace is to a large degree established by and dependent upon the scope of the academic programs and the scholarship and research portfolios they nurture.
The academic scope and focus exist in dynamic equilibrium with the global learning marketplace.
The MAP aligns the academic scope and focus with a global learning marketplace and maintains a dynamic equilibrium. When the alignment process is broken or failing the institution is in dire trouble. Curriculum architecture is the primary means of alignment.
An institution’s curriculum architecture defines the essential components of its curricular system; maps the interrelationships between the components and the environment, and specifies the system’s intended learning and award outcomes. Put simply, the curriculum architecture synthesizes the many institution-specific design and delivery decisions inherent in curriculum management. Curriculum architecture is defined by four underlying components:
- Programs of Study (POS): Consists of the taxonomy of degrees, certificates, sequences, courses, modules, and learning objects within a curriculum inventory. The inventory of programs defines the primary design feature of the institution. The inventory of programs of study anchors the architecture, focuses attention on outcomes and program-based design elements, and, thereby, facilitates the alignment of the academic master planning process with other institutional processes.
- Authentications: This domain details accrediting, licensing, and assessment oversight organizations, the units warranted, and related specifications. In doing so, the architecture incorporates the institutions effectiveness, accreditation and outcomes assessment planning, monitoring, and improvement processes.
- Delivery and Learner Access Strategies: This domain tracks program term parameters, schedule model parameters, delivery modes, facilities implications and other delivery specifications.
- Business Model Variables: This domain specifies the human resource specifications, instructional and non-instructional funding, and other resource specifications required to deliver the curriculum.
Curriculum Architecture is where the structural elements of the curriculum are documented, and further developed that enable achieving the institutional and academic missions and visions. The curriculum architecture includes (but not limited to):
- Programs of Study by Credential
- Content Design Models
- Content Delivery Models
- Calendar Models
- Schedule Models
- Business Models
- Assessment Models
- …as a blog post this is intended to be illustrative
Academic Program Plans
Programs of study derive from and are nurtured and sustained by the curriculum architecture and the infrastructure and capacities it provides. Faculty capacity is essential, and an active faculty development process provides the energy and seeds of innovation to keep the portfolio vibrant and aligned with market realities. Academic programs require planning, and the MAP establishes the process. Successful academic program identification, development, and innovation requires a significant amount of global market awareness, demographic acumen, intuition, and creativity. In the end the Program of Study, such as the schematic below, drives enrollment.
Caution, looking for a program that appears successful then constructing one that looks like it from the a la cart resources of the master course list is a process to be used with great care. It is a difficult challenge to nurture healthy curriculum to market. Market aversion, strong opinion, defensive behavior, and lack of awareness all conspire to make it difficult. A well developed MAP process can help get an initiative underway quickly and avoid roadblocks that inhibit the realization of academic goals. Alignment and integration with the strategic realities of the learning marketplace is essential. The SEM Matrix below, helps align curriculum with market realities.
Institutional Effectiveness, Learning and Learner Assessment
Intensive focus on Institutional Effectiveness (IE) is required by virtually every academic accreditation process. Increasingly this mean a comprehensive process that integrates learning and learner assessment, required if an institution is going to improve its performance and effectiveness continually. To be effective, IE must be comprehensive, cohesive and drive decision making.
Academic strategies are a topic of legend. We are repeatedly asked for the illusive little trick that harvests ample enrollments, with little or no investment, and secures the financial future forever. Well, hate to say it, but, it doesn’t work that way, and we all know it. Contrary to proclamations we have seen a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis is neither a Strategic Plan nor a strategy. I watched a Board of Trustees applaud at the announcement that a course was going online. The problem is that ‘online’ is not an academic strategy, either is a MOOC or a SOOC. They are tactics and when guided by a strategy can be very effective.
Strategy development is messy. To prove the point examine the whiteboard notes taken during an initial MAP development meeting that began a successful curriculum development process. It resulted in several new programs being launched, critical improvements in the SEM Plan and significant (≈20%) enrollment growth.
Session Notes: Failure is not an option
- Strategy 1: An institution’s MAP is the basis for a significant strategic advantage
- Strategy 2: Three options for the trajectory of the MAP
- Option 1: Remain primarily focused on the way it is now.
- Option 2: Evolve to optimize the emerging global digital learning ecosystem
- Option 3: Recognize both options and seek synergy through the transition period and beyond
- Strategy 3: Entity Strategies (choose all that apply)
This is where the academic organizational strategies are developed and various academic entities articulate their specific strategies, plans and …
- Academic Organization
- Organizational Structures Strategy create vibrant synergy and innovation
- Strategic Position Strategies align programs with markets
- University Press (Amazon Publishing Utility)
- Faculty Scholarship
- Staff Scholarship
- Student Scholarship
- Faculty Development Strategies create future focused capacity
- Faculty Information Environment
- Faculty Training
- Orientation to IE
- Curriculum Architecture Strategies create the foundations of academic innovation and creativity
- Curriculum Development Strategies create healthy competitive curricula they can come from
- Program of Study
- Campus School
- Academic Policies must be addressed
- Student Handbook
- Faculty Handbook
- Financial Planning and Budgeting
- Academic Organization
The Master Academic Plan is the pivotal fulcrum of any institutions future. Every institution has one, whether it is articulated as such or it exists as an ad-hoc collection of decisions, policies, deliberations and opinions. Unless it is aligned and integrated with a holistic planning portfolio, it looses its potency.