Integrated Academic Strategic Enrollment Planning: Part 9


Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Series Banner

In our practice, we encounter a lot of confusion and misguided understandings concerning what Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) and especially, what planning Academic SEM is about (see 50 Losing SEM Strategies). The laments around planning are numerous, “too complex, too big, too long term, make it simple, I need a quick fix…” blah, blah, blah. The cold hard truth is that Academic SEM is not simple and it is a primary reason why it is such an important emerging profession. Don’t take this the wrong way. There are plenty of ways to achieve short term bumps (see the Art and Science of the Bump) and bring in pockets of enrollments to backfill budgets. We all know those are an integral part of our tool box. Just focusing upon them, however,  out of context of the holistic spectrum of Academic SEM, is always a losing proposition. This post is a simple articulation of the scope of Academic SEM planning.ASEM Planning Layers

Academic Strategic Enrollment Planning and Management is an institution wide function involving virtually all divisions, units, colleges and key decision makers. This means a multiplicity of systems, functions and perspectives must align and work together in order to achieve optimum enrollment performance.

Four Institution-wide Integrated Layers

The various elements including systems, functions and perspectives must work together synergistically, to achieve optimum performance.  We array sixteen discrete elements in four layers, consisting of four elements each. Guidance and direction is provided within the Strategy Layer, the capacity to perform is detailed in the Capacity Layer, functions are defined and aligned in the Operations Layer, and the Systems Layer provides rules, content, metrics, automation, data management, etc. to make it all work.

The Strategy Layer

ASEM 1AThe strategy layer drives virtually all functions within an Academic SEM enterprise. The layer consists of at least four symbiotic integrated planning foci.  The Institutional Strategic Plan articulates the mission, vision, and major goals that define the future direction of the institution and establishes basic operational commitments. The Academic Master Plan  translates those commitments into a discrete academic portfolio and program functions. The (Strategic Enrollment Management) SEM Plan  seeks to align the Academic Master Plan through enrollment management efforts and initiatives with the dynamics of the global enrollment environment. The SEM Plan must inform both the Institutional Strategic Plan and the Academic Master Plan in iterative cycles in order to achieve alignment. Together, the Strategic, Academic and SEM plans function to develop a Strategic Position among peer institutions and competitors for resources, students, faculty and staff. Strategic Position is the result of academic strategy, marketing, and the net effect of multiple subsystems all coming together to create a sustainable competitive capability.

The Capacity Layer

ASEM 1The Capacity Layer involves at least four interrelated conditions that must work together to get any meaningful academic SEM initiative to work. The organization’s Human Capacity must possess the requisite knowledge and skills across critical functions in order to succeed. The work must be achievable in the work plans of the organizational entities and key individuals across the institution. An institution must have the Organizational Capacity including the systems, methods, tools, processes, as-well-as, the planning and management acumen to undertake and successfully complete complex, integrated, tasks that build to long term success. The Physical Capacity to manage enrollment loads, residency functions, and specific academic pedagogy requirements must be present. The institution must develop and sustain the Fiscal Capacity to develop the resources to support the enterprise.

The Operations Layer

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management is a comprehensive process designed to achieve and maintain the optimum recruitment, retention, and attainment of students where “optimum” is defined within the academic context and results in the strategic position of the institution in the learning marketplace.

Operational AcadeASEM 3mic SEM involves four primary lenses: Recruitment, Retention, Operations (back office, front facing, calendaring, scheduling etc.) and the Academic Portfolio.  Recruitment is defined as an active process an institution undertakes to influence a learner’s decision to attend. Retention is defined as the maintenance of a learner’s satisfactory academic progress toward her or his pedagogical objective until it is attained.

SEM Operations involves a number of cycles and their component processes. Cycles involve Curriculum Development and Revitalization, Recruitment Campaign Design and Development, Campaign Implementation, Yield Monitoring and Optimization, and Retention Management to name a few. Each cycle contains preconditions, policies, processes and procedures. They involve individuals from across academic and administrative units and result in predicted outputs all arranged in a time series workflow that is calendared  and resourced.

The Systems Layer

Both the Academic and Strategic Enrollment Management domains rely upon systems to provide basic functionality.  Any curriculum system facilitates learning content being conceptualized, designed, assessed, packaged, managed and delivered to a learner. All curricular systems have certain characteristics. For example:ASEM 4

All curricula reside within an institutional or organizational context. The context is defined by the mission of the organization in which it resides, the stakeholders who shape that mission, and their vision of where the institution is going and how it is to evolve.

All curricula result in outcomes, in other words, they have a tangible and often intangible impact upon those that engage it. The outcomes may be expected or unexpected. They may be intended or unintended. They may be measurable or difficult to ascertain.

All curricula have an economic reality that they exist within. It may be stable, adequate, inadequate, growing, shrinking, or in a state of flux. The economic realities shape a great deal of what the curriculum is and how it is delivered.

All curricula have an architecture either both well defined and articulated, or defacto, having evolved over time. By architecture we mean that all curricula have a defined structure that fits many parts together. Each identified part is defined and has a defined role to play in the overall function of the system.

The sum of these characteristics helps to define a curriculums’ (system) architecture. The curriculum architecture is framed, enabled and dependent upon the institution’s Information Systems; academic and administrative Policies, Processes and Procedures; the organizations Human Capital Development; and are informed and guided by the institution’s Performance Metrics. In Academic SEM Planning, we consider all of these elements and aspects of the academic and enrollment domains in the planning process. It makes Academic SEM Planning seem at first blush very complex. Upon reflection, it should be understood as a mega system of subsystems and key components that must fit and work together.

50 Losing SEM Strategies

50 Losing SEMThe roots of failing enrollment management strategies can often be detected in the things people say when asked about enrollment. The following are paraphrases (to protect the innocent) of quotes we have collected over the past few years that reflect losing Strategic Enrollment Management strategies. All of these paraphrased quotes come from institutions with declining enrollment scenarios resulting in budgetary reduction ramifications. They were collected from our notes between 2013 and yesterday. They are in no particular order. They are numbered for reference in comments should you decide to. If you have quotes you would like to add, send them along or for the brave – post them in a comment.

  1. “We had some pretty good candidates for our SEM leader but in the end I went with the bubbly, energetic, very positive attitude over the experience because the experienced candidate dwelled too much on the challenges and problems. I think attitude wins over experience.” – President on selection of a VP for Enrollment Management
  2. “I really don’t want to hear about long term anything. It is June 1 and we have a serious budget hole I need fixed by September.  Seriously, you should have gotten the message when I rejected your five year enrollment plan because it did not fix our short term revenue needs.” – President to VP for Enrollment Management June 1st.
  3. “Strategic Enrollment Management approaches are interesting but they are just too complex. We need simple solutions and easy to do fixes that are within our limited budget and resources. Our folks are all busy and they do not have time to learn their way out. Besides, if I train them, they will just leave and make more money somewhere else.” – President
  4. “I have not seen any newspaper ads this year. No wonder we are not making enrollment.” – Board Chair weighing in on enrollment goals
  5. “We have not budgeted for a second year of Online development. It was supposed to be self-sufficient after one year.” – Provost
  6. “I don’t need marketing or Strategic Enrollment anything, just a good PR person that really knows what they are doing and reporting directly to me.” – President
  7. “We spent the last year rewriting all of the correspondence that is used in admissions and have not had time, as a task force, to do anything else.” – Provost in charge of Enrollment Task Force
  8. “We used the money allocated for a Social Media person to fund another road warrior. ” – Director of SEM
  9. “We have a SEM plan, have had for years. Each year we tweak our visitation schedule and our roadshow. Every 3 years we redo our collateral material. We do Social Media, I wouldn’t call it a strategy really. Financial aid reports to another VP, we don’t know what they do really. The web reports to IT so we don’t have a lot of say in it.” – 2014 comments by an Admissions Director
  10. “We go with what has worked for us in the past.” – Director of Admissions
  11. “I cut my marketing and enrollment staff by 1/3 to help with budget cuts as a result of lower enrollment. They should suffer just like the rest since it is their fault.” – President
  12. “Our curriculum isn’t any different, better or worse than anybody else’s. We are different because we care more.” – Provost
  13. “Yes I used bump strategies. I bumped off the Director of Admissions and the VP for Enrollment Management and took over the leadership of our marketing and recruitment staff. I got a fire under them and they will do just fine with a little fear in their hearts.” – President
  14. “We did SEM for a year. It didn’t work, so we are moving forward on branding.” – President
  15. “If everybody just did their job, we would be fine.” – VP Finance
  16. “Academics and curriculum have nothing to do with managing enrollments and recruitment.” – VP Academic Affairs
  17. “I am not investing one more dime until someone shows me a guaranteed method of enrollment growth.” – VP Finance
  18. “Applicants do not care about the curriculum, they care about parties, drugs, where their girlfriend or boyfriend is going, getting away from home, nightlife, dorm rooms, and fun. Don’t tell me its the curriculum, stupid.” – Chair Academic Senate
  19. “I am afraid to change anything, because I can’t be sure what is working and what isn’t. My only hope is to add on and hope it gets better.” – Interim Director for Enrollment Management
  20. “I had no idea we were discounting to that extent.” – President to Board in a Finance Committee meeting
  21. “We do what we know, and we know what we do. Everybody is down so our decline is in line with the market. We just need to get used to being smaller.”- Director of Admissions
  22. “We don’t offer enough financial aid. I need to cover a good deal more of our total cost of attendance with grants and discounts or I just can’t compete.” – Director for Enrollment Management
  23. “I wouldn’t come here. I wouldn’t send my child here.”- An Academic Dean responding to the question “Why should a parent send their child here?”
  24. “I will invest in curriculum when you can prove to me that enrollments are guaranteed and we have the faculty and curriculum already in place.” – President
  25. “We promise the moon and deliver a moon pie.” – Admissions Staff
  26. “The President has to approve all messages, every letter, every paragraph. The VP Finance has to approve every purchase order, even if it is in our budget. We just acquired software to help in our Enrollment Management efforts but ended up getting the one we determine would not meet our needs because IT said they liked it and of course the price. It is August 1 and I am waiting for approvals on virtually everything I need for our Fall campaign. Our CRM system, which will not meet our needs, has been delayed from August and will not be installed until January. How do you think we are doing?” – Outgoing Director for Enrollment Management
  27. “We do OK until we tour our freshman housing.” – Admissions Staff
  28. “Campus tours are tricky, we have to avoid litter, falling plaster, peeling paint, old furniture, antique classrooms, and focus on a small route that has been cosmetically engineered. We have been told that our preferred word for our campus is ‘charming.” I have not one wow place to dwell in.” – Admissions Staff
  29. “I have heard all of the excuses, a lot of competition, need more aid, not enough staff. I believe there are plenty of students waiting to enroll. We are just not very good at getting them here.” – President to the Admissions staff during a ‘Pep Talk’
  30. “I was told we will never directly market programs. There is not enough money to market all of them and selecting some to promote is a powder keg that would blow in a second.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  31. “Our SEM plan is simple, get more higher ability, low financial need students now. I just can’t convince anybody to go do it.” – CFO half joking
  32. “Our academic story is limp and very hard to get a prospect excited. We sound just like everyone else. In fact, there are folks who are proud of we are just like everyone else. There is not much of a value equation we can talk about except the basic value of an education. We tell students we have small classes, faculty care, we care, our students like us and are glad they came to us. But they basically get that from a lot of institutions.” –  Admissions Staff
  33. “Basically we communicate with prospects three times, by letter, by email and then by letter again. Once they apply, I think we do much better… Social Media? I can’t get budget approval to hire someone.” – Director of Admissions
  34. “Our students mostly come from the surrounding communities. Our region has a lot of institutions and competition is fierce. We have never examined strategically what the geographic recruitment sphere should be. We did try recruiting in California for a year, but it was expensive and didn’t really pay its own way in results.” – Admissions Staff
  35. “Not that we would admit it, but our discount rate is over 45%. We report to the board that it is 35%, but that is because we use clever accounting to disguise certain aid types.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  36. “We do virtually no marketing at all. Our VP Marketing serves the President. They do speeches, event planning for Development, and they do print really well. They are not a great deal of help to us. They write nothing for us. There is no concept of strategic position or where do we measure up with respect to the competition. Planning from Marketing’s perspective is event and development publications, even those cater to our older alums.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  37. “There was a directive handed down that academics should develop some new programs to fix our enrollment shortfall projected next fall. Really, can you imagine, believing that a new program developed in Spring can impact fall enrollments? That’s what we are up against.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  38. “We are so far out of alignment managing our various academic and enrollment cycles, it is a wonder we even function. I tried to get the cabinet to at least fully understand when I arrived last fall but I can’t get anyone to even engage in the conversation at the executive level. Everyone is overwhelmed. We are always in crisis of the minute mode. Everything appears too complex to really understand, so we just run around slapping on Band-Aids and getting through the day.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  39. “Remember, I just got here. We have never done anything strategic. Our strategy has really been a financial one. We sold real estate to cover operating deficits.” – CFO
  40. “We closed our two-year college, presumably to focus on upper division. It was very disruptive and helped create a culture of finger pointing, fear, second guessing, and blame. Very bad academic culture was the only real result. The upper division strategy failed to turn us away from decline. So then we chased quick fixes. When that failed the head hunting began.” – Chair Academic Senate
  41. “I need an implementer not  a strategist to head my Enrollment Management team.” – President
  42. “When I arrived a month ago, I was handed a SEM Plan. Apparently it simply was not implemented. Seems they thought new staff would be hired to enable all the things in the plan to be done. When that didn’t happen the operations just continued as they always had and enrollment continued to decline.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  43. “Our SEM Plan required a modest, bare bones, really, system and training budget which was not funded. Hard to implement new when you can’t get folks up to speed and can’t acquire the basic tools of the trade.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  44. “I spend a lot of time listening to ‘suggestions’ of how to fix our enrollment decline. Things like, ‘have you called them,’ or ‘did you ask them to apply,’ or ‘did you tell them how different we are and how much we care.’ I also am handed an inventory of distracting must do’s, like meetings I have no real need to be in but take many hours out of my week. Then there are the constant drags on momentum. It took me two years to get our Social Media efforts funded, then they were postponed for a year putting us three years behind.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  45. “We go from crisis to crisis and magic fix and short cut to Band-Aid. No sustained focus, no long term effort sustained for enough time to get results. No one understands we work forward looking, multiyear cycles.”  – VP for Enrollment Management
  46. “We tolerate failure and poor performance. Our VP for Enrollment Management has been here forever, has no real plan, reveals shortfalls too late, has a million excuses, resists change or even evaluation of any kind. I surely would not get away with any of it.” – VP Development
  47. “We have a new Leader who is clueless. Came in and stopped everything that was in progress. Occupied the Marketing staff for most of the first 6 months supporting an Inauguration instead of supporting recruitment. Spent a year reorganizing and focusing on a dashboard. Replaced everybody so they are the President’s folks. Fired the Provost, the VP Marketing, the head of Enrollment Management and reallocated budgets to support pet projects. Put out a mandate to increase enrollments, no plan, no analysis just mandate and control. Meanwhile, we have gotten smaller, weaker, and poorer. And this leader was not the Selection Committee’s first or second choice.” – retiring Faculty member
  48. “The culture is tense. Nervous, without a plan, whittled expenses to the bone, kind of tense. The expectation is that there is a sure thing, quick fix trick we can use.  We keep chasing it, wasting time, money, and precious recruitment cycles. We have been doing this for three years and avoided a detailed plan that had promise because it spanned five years. We avoided it because it required a reallocation of resources that we had at the time but politically difficult.” – Academic Dean
  49. “Our enrollment strategy? Blame, fire, repeat.”- Admissions Staff
  50. “We talk about the decline, talk a lot about it. We seem unable to even get a footing upon which to do anything. So we talk. Been talking for a couple years. Now we are talking about downsizing. No one seems to like any idea that is suggested. They are unsure. Risk averse, they ask where is the proof, how can we be sure? I have to go to a meeting now, to talk about holding positions vacant.”- Associate Academic Dean

 HELP! Here are a ideas to help differentiate by using Academic SEM Strategies.

  • Understand academic strategic advantages and how to recognize, develop and showcase them.
  • Understand the dynamics of the emerging global digital learning ecosystem and its impact on the future of education.
  • Develop an academic narrative that differentiates. Ensure your plan delivers a balanced short-term (bump), medium-term (program market revitalization), and long-term strategic position approach. Then live the plan.
  • Invest in increasing the value of your student’s educational experience, and that means curriculum.
  • Recognize that the underlying issues that created such tense market dynamics defy quick marketing, branding, slap together program fixes. Doesn’t mean marketing and branding are not important, they are, but it does mean success requires much more than billboards on freeways, placards on buses, going on-line, and hastily copying others curricular portfolio.
  • Recognize it takes an Academic/SEM Team to achieve a competitive strategic position in the dynamic learners market that is today and tomorrow.
  • Recognize the gift of ‘bump’ strategies that provide a short term increase in enrollments and the precious investment dollars they provide to continue meaningful transformation.
  • There is much more to Academic SEM…

So, what can be done NOW?

  • Starting with mining the mission, and re-conceptualizing your Strategic Plan as ‘Curriculum-Centered’ and the Curriculum as ‘Learner Centered,’ then focus on strategic position. How? Use the Curriculum-Centered Strategic Planning Model (CCSPM) and the SRS Method as reference. This is not a long drawn out effort, it starts with evaluating the existing strategic plan and assets and creating short-term market wins. In the process identify opportunities for program market revitalization and develop a strategic market narrative.
  • Use Academics, Programs of Study, Curricular Elements, Research, and learner experiences to create a compelling narrative that builds competitive strategic position.
  • Use the emerging principles and practices of Academic SEM to enhance your strategic market position by developing a long term, sustainable strategy.
  • Use bump tactics to gain in selected areas in order to fund broader innovation and revitalization and pave the pathway to a strategic market position. Make everything count toward the future.
  • There are numerous ways and methods to begin an Academic SEM approach to sustainability. The following links provide options, information and opportunities.

Evolve to Academic SEM

Learn why all “Strategic” Enrollment Management is “Academic,” attend:

Academic SEM Posters Available

Academic SEM Funnel [MGDA01]


Academic SEM Cycles [MGDA02]






Academic SEM Strategy: The iMBA at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign College of Business

The UIUC iMBA is expected to launch in 2016, and be priced at $20,000 or so. The digital curriculum architecture is designed to serve learners in a MBA degree program of study, as well as, individuals seeking advanced practice standing in seven contemporary business communities of practice. [Coursera iMBA page]
Using a strategy of interweaving Coursera MOOC courses with embedded specializations/certifications either in parallel or as precursor to the College of Business MBA, UIUC has optimized its digital curricula for multiple markets. There are seven specializations with embedded certifications anticipated with at least one available now, including:

  1. Digital Marketing (available now)
  2. Global Business Strategy and Economics
  3. Healthcare Management
  4. Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  5. Business Analytics
  6. Innovation and Technology
  7. Advanced topics in Finance and Accounting

Each specialization and their corresponding certification packages discrete ‘Community of Practice’ portions of UIUC CoB digital MBA and positions them firmly in both advanced practice and collegiate degree markets. Between now and 2016, the school will put all the courses required for its traditional MBA program on Coursera and they will be available free of charge. Students can explore, experience and digest courses selected to meet their interest or need or they can take the program curriculum. If no credit or certificates are of interest, the program is free. However, to earn a degree one must apply, be accepted, enroll, complete with satisfactory grades and pay an estimated $20K (other comparable MBAs cost $75K to 100+K). If one wishes to earn a certificate, such as, the Digital Marketing specialization, which is available now, the cost is $474. The DM Certificate curriculum consists of 5 courses plus a capstone. Learners can pay as they go or all at once.


The UIUC iMBA is designed and intended to be disruptive. It is built upon the next generation curriculum architecture. It optimizes the emerging digital learning ecosystem, connecting the curriculum directly to learners everywhere. It embeds assessment in the design, and provides certificates of achievement for high value course sequences as standalone or stacked credentials. It, combined with, Georgia Tech / Udacity / ATT $7K Masters in Computer Science are signs that large scale (MOOC/SOOC type) curricula are moving beyond proof of concept. It is reasonable to expect that monetizing large scale curricula will continue to evolve.

Note: also see

Evolve to Academic SEM

If you’re not thinking Academic SEM, you are not thinking about the future. To explore Academic SEM strategies, join us by attending:

Academic SEM Posters Available

Academic SEM Funnel [MGDA01]


Academic SEM Cycles [MGDA02]



Enrollment ‘Crisis’ Management: Managing Academic and SEM Cycles & Workflows : Part 8

We all know timing is everything. Some of the first strategic elements an enrollment crisis disrupts are the Academic and SEM Cycles & Workflows. In fact, it is one the biggest challenges an institution faces in an enrollment crisis, to stay focused on performing SEM cyclical activities and developing strategies. Suddenly, a shortfall in enrollments and the concomitant shortfall in revenues can cause shock waves of second guessing, demands to alter the course, change tactics, new leadership, new people, etc. The desire to shake things up in order to appear that decisive action is being taken can be overwhelming. But before acting upon any of these impulses, a little reality orientation is in order.

Step 1: Take a Longer View of the Underlying Issues

Recognize that higher education is in the middle of the most dramatic paradigm shift in its history accommodating the emergence of a global digital learning ecosystem. One result is an explosion of options for learners to acquire sought after learning objectives. Additionally, higher education is experiencing a demographic shift and a demand for greater accountability and higher productivity. Learners are facing economic crises and face significant challenges meeting educational costs as evidenced by the extreme debt burden. At the same time, institutions are facing their own unprecedented economic challenges emanating from the demand for more services, increased regulation, and because of demographics and competition, low growth or declining enrollments. These realities impact virtually every aspect of higher education’s structure and function. In this light, it is advisable to take a systemic view of how enrollments are developed and work within a defined structural framework to develop a closer alignment with learner markets and enhanced educational outcomes. It is a complex task, and for the framework to be affective, it must be inclusive across academic and enrollment management domains. This requires the integration of practices between academic and enrollment management outside the normal culture of most institutions.

Step 2: Understand and Work the ASEM Cycles and Workflows

To borrow Hillary Clinton’s metaphor from her 1996 book, “It takes a village to (raise a child) deliver enrollments.” Specifically, an Academic–Strategic Enrollment Management Village. We focus in this blog post upon understanding the structured cycles and workflows that are behind every enrollment report. Realize that every enrollment report has behind it a three to four year rolling cycle that delivered it.

For example, this post is being published in December 2014. As you read this post you should be in the middle of planning the campaign(s) to be launched in the fall of 2015 to deliver enrollments in fall 2016. This means that the curriculum, as it exists in fall 2014, is responsible for delivering the fall 2016 enrollments. If academic innovations or revitalizations are being developed to influence fall 2016 enrollments, they must be very carefully integrated into the campaign plan being developed now. Rarely do academic, and SEM communities engage in such careful dialog, planning, analysis, and integration.

To give life to the metaphorical village, MGDA launched the Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Initiative in 2014. The initiative began with the Academic SEM series of posts in the MGDA Higher Education Blog. We then began engaging academic and SEM leaders in the community of practice group in LinkedIn. We then turned our focus upon Sustainability by developing Academic SEM Institute (December 2014 and to be repeated in June 2015). Most recently, we announced our 2015 Transformational Institutes Series to provide deeper support and development to our clients.

In order for academic and enrollment management communities to work better together, they must first understand the basic cycles and workflows that culminate in an enrollment report. Such understanding is required at all levels – from the President and Vice Presidents, to the deans, faculty, academic and enrollment staff.

Basic Academic SEM Cycles

So what are the cycles? They follow the flow depicted in Figure 1: Academic/SEM Cycles Overview. Five stages in four highly (but not totally) linear arrays of activities.

The first stage involves the design, development and implementation of the curriculum. This stage is guided by academic and accreditation policies, processes and procedures. Curriculum cannot be offered for enrollment until the criteria are met, and approvals are granted. It is the curriculum that learners enroll in, and the specifics of the curricular requirements form a contract with the learner. This stage is ongoing throughout the year.

The second stage involves developing a campaign to find, attract, and persuade students to enroll in the institution’s curricula. The second stage begins in the fall with a review of the last campaign yield for current fall enrollments. It also utilizes the day to day experience of the current campaign underway (to deliver next fall’s enrollments) as a frame of reference. The primary focus is the development of the campaign to be launched next fall to deliver the following fall’s campaign. In most institutions, these campaigns roll together in a continuum from year to year. We separate them to focus the evaluation, design, development, and implementation on discrete cycles.

Academic/SEM Cycles Overview.

Figure 1: Academic/SEM Cycles Overview.

The third stage involves campaign implementation. Its purpose is to deliver the next annual class of freshmen. The function of the campaign is to identify prospects and systematically nurture them through the process of choosing and enrolling in a curriculum. Campaign implementation begins in August/September and ends usually on enrollment census day the following fall.

The fourth stage involves two distinct pathways. One follows the students through formal retention monitoring and intervention, the other engages the Academic SEM community in formal comprehensive evaluation. The fourth stage Academic SEM is ongoing and interfaces with Institutional Effectiveness, Research, and Assessment activities. The fourth stage Retention path is ongoing and interfaces with academic and student support services.

All of these stages are running simultaneously within annual cycles. The parallel nature of the cycles is the source for significant confusion in understanding why an Academic SEM full sequence of cycles involves three to four years of calendar time. Campus leaders rail against this basic pace and often try to force academic program work in the current fall term and demand it impact the next fall’s enrollment. This naïve understanding of how enrollment building works may lead to weak, impotent curricula, and may distract academic and enrollment staff from building strongly market aligned programs. Hasty and ill focused action can create the illusion that one can just demand a fix, and it happens. Clarification requires a little more detail.

Basic Academic SEM Workflows

Within each cycle there are a number of tasks, processes, and procedures, collectively called workflows. They conspire when aggregated to achieve each cycle’s outcomes and feed the next cycle and other workflows. Figure 2: Academic/SEM Cycles & Workflows, adds, in outline form, the various elements and steps that are included in each of the stages. Note how the workflows attach to the cycles. In reality, the working groups involved in each cycle possess unique organizational cultures driving each cycle and the workflows that comprise them.

Academic/SEM Cycles & Workflows

Figure 2: Academic/SEM Cycles & Workflows

Let’s examine them one at a time. The bullet list below will permit you to cut and paste should you decide to make a deeper example for your institution of the actual processes utilized. Remember these are not intended as exhaustive lists, each institution has its unique array of processes and lexicon.

Curriculum Planning & Development

The curriculum planning and development processes are continuous and derive from academic affairs policies and the master academic plan. Academic annual cycles normally begin in the fall and culminate at the time of graduation. Summers are sometimes used for special intensive curriculum development projects. Classically, the ‘last like term’ is used as a model to set up the curriculum term. For example, last fall is used to set up next fall. Once the last term’s data is imported, modifications are made, and the new term is launched. An institution’s master course list and term schedule model are a very complex web of interrelationships. Room schedules are a delicate dance of preferences, specifications, and demand. Enrollment patterns induce schedule requirements forcing harsh realities, hurt feelings and the inevitable go-a-rounds, work-a-rounds, power plays, and the occasional ‘I moved my class, what are you going to do about it.’

New programs are most often launched based upon faculty interest. While this approach is certainly not bad, it can be significantly enhanced by innovation opportunities emerging from the enrollment market place. The marketplace has grown saturated with hyped program names populated by an ‘a la carte’ course sequence selected from the master course list. It has also become saturated by cloned copies of another institution’s innovation. The current market thrives on new curriculum. New is defined by the content, by where the learning experience leads or by the quality of the learning experience. New doesn’t mean throw out the existing but align it with emerging realities and refresh the focus. Processes involved in curriculum revitalization include:

  • Curriculum Architecture and Academic Program Specifications
  • Historic Recruitment Performance Review
  • Longitudinal Programmatic Enrollment Analysis
  • Strategic Position Analysis
  • Program & Discipline Scanning
  • Program Mix
  • Program Revitalization
  • New Program Development
  • Formal Program Review
  • Prototyping of new and existing programs of study
  • Messaging related to academic programs
  • Program and course approval
  • Course scheduling
  • Facility scheduling
  • Faculty load management
  • Faculty Development

Campaign Planning & Development

As in the curriculum process, it is common for campaigns to simply assume the structure and steps of the last campaign. For the same basic reasons, it too is very complex and hard to turn on a dime. Changes require time, attention, resources, and above all, a plan. Changes require training, testing, systems, policies, processes and procedures. Campaigns are not just mechanics. There is a great deal of visual design, messaging, persuasion, intuition, teamwork and follow through. Campaign planning and development must be informed by the performance of previous campaigns. Any campaign must also be designed to present the curriculum emanating from the previous workflow in the best possible way to meet enrollment targets. Processes involved in campaign planning and development include:

  • Campaign Model
  • Campaign Project Management
  • Calendar
  • Scheduling
  • Market Segmentation
  • Prospecting
  • Engagement Plan
  • Messaging
  • Channels
  • Collateral Material
  • Conversion
  • Responsiveness
  • Metrics
  • Analytics
  • Campaign Plan
  • Training

Recruitment Campaign

Recruitment activity often assumes the context, structure and initiatives of the last cycle as well. Recruiters stick to what has worked in the past, what they know, slowly they watch and listen and learn. They, above all, encounter the resistance, the competition, lack of interest, and a host of market behaviors we all wish didn’t exist when they don’t go our way. Any change is seen as add on and requires additional resources. These may or may not be forthcoming. Campaigns must be documented and managed as the complex projects that they are. This takes time and overhead. Above all, a recruitment campaign must be adaptable. Processes involved in campaign implementation include:

  • Launch Campaign
  • Manage Campaign
  • Monitor Activities and Metrics
  • Assess Performance (Causal) and Feedback
  • Track Media Analytics
  • Adapt Campaign Plan to Emerging Revelations
  • Innovate around opportunities that arise
  • Focus recruitment teams on market segments
  • Engage Suspects, Prospects, and Applicants
  • Involve prospects and the academic community
  • Conversion Tracking and Analysis
  • Closing the loop with a Deposit
  • Nurture
  • Negotiate

Campaign Evaluation (The ASEM Community Learns)

Comprehensive campaign evaluation is commonly abbreviated due to a lack of time, clear delineation of cycle boundaries, resistance to change and fear of consequences. It can also be strangled by a lack of process data or evidence granular enough to drive changes. Campaign evaluation is a numbers game. You must have the numbers to play. It is also enhanced by a culture of continuous improvement rather than one of fear. Processes involved in campaign evaluation include:

  • Campaign Post Mortem
  • Messaging Conversion Performance
  • Channel Performance
  • ILA (Institution Last Attended) Performance
  • Geographic Yield Analysis
  • Prospect List Analysis
  • Systems Analysis
  • Team Performance (Recruiter, Support, …)
  • POS (Program of Study) Performance
  • Collateral Material and Resources Performance
  • Feedback to Academics (Formal)
  • Feedback to Student Affairs and Learner Support Services
  • Engage Retention Management System
  • Engage Institutional Effectiveness

Retention Classification System (A Basic Status Tracking Taxonomy)

Retention is a constant activity, perpetually monitored, evaluated and improved. For all of the attention the subject of retention receives, clarity over the dimensions and underlying causes of attrition is poorly understood. Retention may be better renamed ‘Progress Toward Credential Objectives.’ Clearly marking the various stages of progress and tracking student progress significantly improves performance. This requires a formal taxonomy with specific discrete definitions. An example:

Retention Classification System

  1. Persisting – Currently Enrolled Students
    1. Satisfactory Academic Progress
    2. Unsatisfactory Degree Progress
    3. Unsatisfactory Grade-Point-Average
    4. Unsatisfactory Program Progress
  2. Achieved (Graduated with Credential)
  3. Attained
  4. Transferred
    1. Planned
    2. Unplanned
  5. Stopped-out (No-Show)
  6. Dropped-out (Formal Withdrawal)
  7. Dismissed
    1. Academic Disqualification
    2. Administrative Disqualification
    3. Disciplinary Disqualification
    4. Financial Dis-enrollment

Creating a Systems Flow View

So, how does this all work together? If your response was, well, it doesn’t, you would be in the majority.

We all know the fall work plan is overloaded with getting the new academic year started and a new class settled. The fall starts anew, getting the year’s workload underway, adapting to the fall enrollment numbers and corollary budget that it drives. New gives way to preparing for the fall board of trustee’s meeting and engaging the suite of integrated workflows that deliver enrollments. Time is short, too many meetings, and the holidays come out of nowhere and the term ends. Suddenly we realize that it is mid-January, and it is too late to develop a bump strategy for next fall enrollments. Sure we can try a few tricks, but the train has left the station, so to speak, and all that remains is trying to squeeze every bit of yield we can out of a dwindling pool of prospect/applicants.

A focus upon the flow and prioritizing within the workflows is required.

Figure 3: Academic/SEM Cycles Flow Model separates out the Retention and Campaign Evaluation pathways and connects them in a flow and feedback pattern to begin to work through the various interrelationships.

ASEM Cycles Text

Figure 3: Academic/SEM Cycles Flow Model



The schematic view of the workflows outlined in Figure 3 is illustrative. It has not been developed as a comprehensive list but rather as a prompt for compiling a bespoke institutional list. Inevitably compiling a list of workflows responsible for enrollment engages the politics of the organization, especially when the list includes programs of study, curriculum development and academic planning and strategies.

In the end, the totality and comprehensiveness of the family of Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Workflows must come together into one cohesive system with a blended culture and focus upon institutional sustainability.

In order to reflect upon this challenge better, we offer:

Academic/SEM Cycles Framed

Figure 4: Academic/SEM Cycles Framed


In Closing

I hope this brief sketch of the five Academic and SEM Cycles & Workflows provides an insight into the basic weave of complex elements that culminate in an enrollment report. We encourage your input, thoughts, suggestions and comments.

In our continuing effort to support our clients, MGDA is excited to announce our schedule of Transformational Strategies Institutes for 2015.

The transformation of higher education is evolving more rapidly with each annual cycle. While dealing with the annual litany of challenges, remember that a longer more permanent transformation is underway. The paradigm shift to the learning age is powered by a global digital learning ecosystem requiring unprecedented focus on academic and enrollment strategy. The planning horizon is characterized by increased demands for accountability, increased competition, significant learner and institutional economic challenges, and significant differences of opinion on how the future should be approached.

Our Institute series recognizes the need for unprecedented collaboration between academic and enrollment domains guided by new visionary strategic plans that forge a cohesive approach to a future full of uncertainty. We continually develop resources to help the journey into the future, so please check in regularly.

To stay connected and engage with your colleagues, join the ASEM Group in Linked In.

Achieving Strategic Position in the Global Learning Marketplace: Part 7

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Series Banner

This is the seventh post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

No one can achieve and sustain long-term enrollment and fiscal health with mandates or short-term, reactive, quick fix initiatives.

Strategic Position

Strategic Position is defined as the sum of the competitive characteristics an institution or program possesses when compared to other institutions or programs in the global learning ecosystem or specific market segments. The concept comprises both marketing and branding and extends the efforts of competitiveness to a holistic, proactive, cohesive process defining, developing and implementing a strategy of sustainability. The roots of strategic positioning lie in the academic master plan and the academic culture and curriculum it defines, builds and sustains. The most effective enrollment management strategies are designed to build and sustain strategic market position. The process begins with institutional strategy emanating from mission and vision.

The concept of strategic position is built around assessing where an institution is with respect to what prospective students are looking for in an educational opportunity and what other providers in its competitive sphere offer. The assessment of strategic position is informed through at least six lenses.

  • The demographics lens examines enrollment strategy and performance against geographic scope, reach and yield. Scope assesses and defines target populations, reach details tactics to engage target populations and yield measures enrollment performance.
  • The learning outcomes lens examines the metrics and perceptions of the benefit and value added through the learning experience.
  • The academic programs lens examines the scope and focus of the academic program mix requiring an evaluation of saturation and opportunity against market dynamics.
  • The research and scholarship lens examines the comparative scholarly performance of the institution against competitors.
  • The employment domains and discipline spheres examine the requirements of employers, contemporary realities in academic communities and the performance and success of alums.
  • The community of practice lens examines academic strategies tied to emerging trans-disciplinary communities of practice that require a collaborative academic background to join.
Strategic Position Diagram

Figure 1: Six Lenses Informing Strategic Position – Strategic Position can be defined as the sum of the competitive characteristics an institution or program possesses when compared to other institutions or programs in the global learning sphere or its specific market segments.

Achieving strategic position requires the institution to define the specific parameters that position the institution in the global learning marketplace. Enrollment managers work as partners in developing strategies to achieve and to maintain the competitive position of the institution within the global learning market. The learning marketplace is dynamic, and those dynamics change over time and within each competitive domain an institution is recruits. It is important to anchor recruitment campaigns in strategies that align the academic portfolio with market parameters.

Parameters Driving Strategic Position

Strategic position as a conceptual approach recognizes the confluence of factors, forces and elements that contribute to the competitiveness of the institution in the global learning market. Examples of parameters driving strategic position.

Geographic Mix

Defines the actual and targeted geographic representation of enrolled students.  Expressed as percent distributions by defined geographic regions (e.g. zip code, county, region, state, country). Provides a framework to align enrollment targets and performance with population distributions and dynamics.

  • Why is this important?
    Geographic mix defines the raw suspect pool that yields prospects and eventually enrollments. If the geographic mix is too narrow the pool is not large enough to achieve or sustain enrollments. If the mix is unfocused (such as international by country) or undeclared then, the services required for student success may not be available. Geographic mix also helps determine who the competitors are.
  • Example
    An urban independent institution with numerous competing academic neighbors and an enrollment profile so localized it was termed line of sight recruitment experienced steady erosion in enrollments. Their initial proposed geographic mix strategy involved a three-year focus to develop the capacity to expand to contiguous states then to a twelve state region. In addition, because of well-developed affiliations a limited international effort was also recommended. The strategies in this case were directly linked to specific programs of study.

Program of Study Mix

Defines the array of academic programs and services an institution offers to the population it serves. Provides a framework to align credentials with economic, social, political, and technological challenges and opportunities.

  • Why is this important?
    The mix of programs and disciplines ultimately define the profile of the institution to the learning marketplace. Program of study clusters can also be used to position schools, colleges, and departments in communities of interest and practice. The goal is to generate a following among influencers and a constant buzz in the social media regarding programmatic opportunities. Institutionally focused general marketing while necessary is insufficient alone to sustain healthy enrollments. Program level marketing must be developed and sustained.
  • Example
    A college of art and design offered a limited number of programs of study. The growth strategy involved adding four programs of study in developing the first stage of enrollment futures strategy. The programs rather than being selected from interest areas among faculty were selected to build a cohesive strategic position in the market. For example, a Business of Art and Design program was developed in order to emphasize the economic value of art and design and highlight the role of the institutions programs in producing practicing artists and designers. Geographic mix was then considered. The same institution relied heavily upon in-state enrollment with a geographic mix of 77% in state, 20% other 49 states (but predominantly six other states) and 3% international. Is this a healthy distribution?

Employment Domains and Discipline Spheres

Defines existing and emerging disciplines and employment sectors and opportunities.  Provides a framework for connecting and aligning structured disciplines with economic opportunities.

  • Why is this important?
    The linkage between academic disciplines and preparation for employment within defined economic sectors is of extremely high value when developing academic strategy. It is often deeply misunderstood. Every academic credential needs to embed employability knowledge and skills into the curriculum. The narrative describing the curriculum must make the case that the curriculum is up-to-date, relevant, and content and experience rich.
  • Example
    A Universities’ Liberal Arts programs recognized they needed curriculum revitalization to invigorate enrollment. The process was guided by the notion that a well-constructed liberal arts undergraduate degree could be argued and proven to be the perfect credential for this century. The core was reimagined to include thematic essential employability competencies that were shaped into curricular experiences. Faculty focused on:

    • Quantitative and qualitative reasoning and decision-making
    • Effective communication
    • Global cultural and political awareness
    • A strong sense of self and an understanding of self in relation to community
    • Basic economic structures and dynamics
    • Political systems and governance

    These were embedded into the curricular experience and designed to be assessed.

Community of Practice Focus

Defines emerging need or problem based communities. Provides a framework for understanding and aligning multiple programs and disciplines with emerging global needs and opportunities.

  • Why is this important?
    Communities of Practice represent self-identifying contemporary clusters of individuals with diverse knowledge, skills and credentials coming together to address an important issue, problem or need. They are very fertile ground to identify, shape and develop new curriculum. The community of practice lens is also a great way to approach existing curriculum revitalization and market realignment.
  • Example
    A School of Management had developed and was preparing to launch a program of study in fraud and forensics. The preliminary design was primarily accounting in nature. The scope of practice was narrowly focused. By engaging the communities of practice that included judiciary, law enforcement, and financial sectors in a structural review of the preliminary curriculum significant changes were made. As a result of the participation, the Communities of Practice members populated the initial program cohorts and augmented faculty expertise.

Learning Outcomes

Defines the knowledge and skills acquired form engagement in an academic program of study or learning environment. Provides a framework for mapping outcomes, developing narrative and leveraging academic value.

  • Why is this important?
    Teaching and learning are the heart and soul of an academic institution. Differentiating an institution based upon learning achievement, teaching quality, learning environment, and educational value-added is seldom attempted and difficult to achieve. Focusing upon learning outcomes includes completion rates, placement rates of graduates, and rankings and ratings by employers. It also structurally can be used as a guide to revitalizing the curricular design model.
  • Example
    Recognizing that roughly half of the prospects searching for their first enrollment opportunity are undecided as to the major they are interested initial strategies were developed to launch a common first year experience for undecided majors. The curriculum was designed to provide a strong academic experience flowing directly into more than a dozen majors. It was designed without a time to degree extension penalty being required (similar to the Liberal Arts example above except within a human services curricular cluster) regardless of the major selected within the cluster.

Research and Scholarship

Defines the knowledge focus and foundation of an academic organization and its relationship to the global academic and knowledge ecosystem. Provides a framework for innovation, focus, and leveraging knowledge and discipline expertise.

  • Why is this important?
    Research and scholarship anchor the academic reputation of the institution. The higher the demonstrable quality of research and scholarship the higher the perceived value of the learning experience.
  • Example
    An urban universities’ professional school sought to increase their rank and strategic position among their peers and enhance both research and faculty and student recruitment. A review of the research scholarship platform revealed more than 50 centers, institutes, and laboratories. As the school designed a new facility a comprehensive focus resulted in re-conceptualizing the organization, integration and support of the research and scholarship functions.

These examples illustrate in a nutshell, what we mean by taking a strategic position approach. The path to developing effective strategies can appear daunting and overwhelming. In order to construct meaningful strategy, we treat the view through these six lenses from the current institutional position as vectors. The concept of vectors adds two defining characteristics to the view through the lens, direction and magnitude. Note the primacy the curriculum and the academic portfolio play in developing strategic position. A well-developed strategically focused Master Academic Plan provides the best foundation. The use of the vector view is a powerful lens providing a focus for both the Master Academic Plan and developing Strategic Position.

SP Vectors

Figure 2: Strategic Position Using Vectors: Example

The vector view in figure 2 provides sufficient detail (an early draft and not the more exhaustive view) to synthesize cohesive and comprehensive strategies for the future of the enterprise. Each element on the six lens lines is in a state of change; increasing or decreasing, expanding or contracting, changing rapidly or slowly,  either in growth or decline, is becoming more popular or more essential or is becoming less so. These six lens inform the development of the Master Academic Plan and help identify candidates for bump strategies, or long term development. They inform the status of the institutions current strategic position and provide insight and opportunities for future development.

Such a view can plug back into an initial strategic position assessment using the SRS Method to develop a clear and concise translation and guide Strategic Enrollment Management strategies.

SRS Pyramid (Diagram)

Figure 3: The SRS Method for Strategy Development

In Closing

Hopefully this Strategic Position approach has provided deeper insight into the intricate and detailed elements involved in constructing a comprehensive competitive position in the emerging global learning marketplace. A colleague commenting on this approach quipped “Wouldn’t it be nice if this were much simpler? Send a few Social Media messages, even put up a billboard on the freeway or placards in buses and by golly the enrollments would overflow. In a perfect world, they would all be eager, well prepared, well-mannered, full pay students that just do as they are told and graduate on time.”  Pardon a quote from a contemporary commercial—“that’s not how any of this works.” It is complex; efforts take time and persistence, and results (not wishes) must be designed into strategies and initiatives. In the end curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue and revenue drives everything else. That means ultimately strategies emanate from the curriculum (see “It’s the Curriculum Stupid”) and the academic enterprise.

Proficiency Based Curriculum Model: Part 6

Proficiency Based Curriculum Model: Part 6


This is the sixth post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

One of the most profound developments in Academic SEM is the emergence of a Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model (PBCAM). Its development and continued evolution are the results of a synthesis by a number of scholars, communities of practice and higher education associations. The Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model is driven by and feeds the continued evolution of the global learning ecosystem. It is built upon a digital learning framework and serves to restructure the basic architecture of higher education’s curriculum. 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.

An Evolving Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture

The scope of the emerging Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model embraces learning leading to an accredited formal educational credential and extends to include the universe of practice based educational experiences. Practiced based curriculum has historically been considered not for credit in a collegiate program of study. The lines have become blurred as new learning experiences are built and experienced and woven into the for credit curriculum. An example of the implications of the Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model considers the Kahn Academy’s inventory of learning objects and their integration by the learner into their collegiate experience. Until now there was not a structure within a collegiate curriculums architecture to accommodate the experience.

Curriculum architecture is defined by four underlying domains:

  1. Programs of Study
    The taxonomy of degrees, certificates, sequences, courses, modules, and learning objects within a school’s curriculum inventory defines the primary design feature of the school. This domain anchors the architecture, shifts attention to outcomes and program-based design elements, and, thereby, facilitates the alignment of the academic master planning process with other institutional processes.
  2. Authentications
    This domain details accrediting, licensing, and assessment oversight organizations, the units warranted, and related specifications. In doing so, the architecture incorporates the School’s accreditation and outcomes assessment planning processes.
  3. Delivery and Learner Access Strategies
    This domain tracks program term parameters (calendar), schedule model parameters, delivery modes, facilities implications and other delivery specifications.
  4. Business Model Variables
    This domain specifies the human resource specifications, instructional and non-instructional funding, and other resource specifications required to deliver the curriculum.
    Of these domains, the basic structural elements of the programs of study define the learner’s curricular experiences and provide for the primary value assessment of a credential. The POS and the courses that build the cumulative knowledge and skills are essential to positioning an academic offering in the 21st century global learning marketplace. The system that is now in place is structurally two tiers that link the program of study to required course experiences.

The Two Tier Program Architecture

The managed components of curricula consist of the top tier referred to as the Program of Study or POS. The program tier consists of a prescribed number of roughly sequential course experiences designed to culminate in a credential. A typical baccalaureate program of study is five courses per term over 8 consecutive terms summing to 40 courses earning a minimum of 120 credits.

The Program of Study

Figure 1: The Program of Study

The second tier is the Course. Courses are defined in terms of seat time equivalency and calibrated to credits. A three credit course is typical. Courses in this example are delivered over a 15 week term requiring 3 hours of faculty contact per week for a total of 45 contact hours. In addition, students would be expected to spend 6 hours per week reading, preparing, and problem solving, or studying the material for an additional 90 hours of learning the experience. Combined these two basic course elements sum to 135 hours of learning engagement and earn three credit hours. Learning is assessed primarily through summative course assessments in the form of midterm and final exams with further evidence supplied by a term paper, quizzes or a project. A new model has evolved since 1995.

The Seven Tier Curriculum Architecture

The new model begins with the understanding of the emergence of learning objects and their role in constructing curriculum architectures. Learning objects are the smallest component of the curriculum. They form the foundation of a structured curriculum, are integral to learning and are used to build pathways to higher level cognitive awareness and understanding. The content within learning objects has always been integral to the teaching and learning processes. The shift to digital learning environments enables discrete digital lessons that can be created, stored, used and reused, labeled (tagged), mapped in sequence, coupled with specific formative assessments, and integrated into larger cohesive curricular structures.

IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS GLC)

In 1995, IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS GLC) came into existence as a project within the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative of EDUCAUSE. While IMS got its start with a focus on higher education, the specifications published to date as well as ongoing projects address requirements in a wide range of learning contexts, including of course K-12 schools and corporate and government training. The primary focus of the initiative and the work of the consortium involve the establishment of standards for the emerging digital learning environment especially with respect to the formal curriculum.

Learning Objects

On June 25 1999 Cisco System published version 3.0 of their Cisco Systems Reusable Information Object Strategy: Definition, Creation Overview, and Guidelines marking a key milestone in the evolution and development of the use of objects.

The RIO Strategy is built upon the Reusable Information Object (RIO). An RIO is granular, reusable chunk of information that is media independent. An RIO can be developed once and delivered in multiple delivery mediums. Each RIO can stand alone as a collection of content items, practice items and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective. Individual RIOs are then combined to form a larger structure called a Reusable Learning Object (RLO).

Objects are then combined to build modules, and modules are combined to build courses.

The Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model

Figure 2: The Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model


The first distinguishing factor in the use of the term ‘Learning Object’ is that it is an element of the Digital Learning Environment. There are a number of learning object models that have emerged. Early on the learning object was defined as “a collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective.” “The term Learning Object, first popularized by Wayne Hodgins in 1994 when he named the CedMA working group ‘Learning Architectures, APIs and Learning Objects’

The second distinguishing factor is determined by the three basic characteristics of an object:

  • Accessibility
    An object must be able to be stored, retrieved, indexed, referenced and used directly by the learner. To achieve this means that it must be labeled with ‘metadata’ or tagged with keywords in order to facilitate the function within a digital archival system.
  • Reusability
    An object once cataloged and warranted for credibility should serve the learner in different instructional and learning contexts.
  • Interoperability
    The object should function independently from the learning management system, curriculum or content management systems, student record and registration system.

Course Curriculum Flow Model

The Course Curriculum Flow Model diagrams a course design into a sequence of related experiences and maps them in a time framework. The model provides a structured means of defining, combining, and developing learning experiences built upon a fine granularity assessable learning engagements building toward proficiency.

The Course Curriculum Flow Model

Figure 3: The Course Curriculum Flow Model

The course then plugs directly into the existing Program of Study diagramed in Figure 1: The Program of Study.

Disciplines and Communities of Practice: The guiding forces of formal curricula

Academic degrees and credentials are much more than just a random assemblage of learning experiences. Two fundamental drivers guide them. See Figure 2: The Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model.

The first driver is the structure, focus, and rigor of academic disciplines. Disciplines historically drive credential development and anchor the credential on a bedrock of scholarship, reason and accumulated research.

The second driver involves the structure, focus, and rigor emanating from trans-disciplinary Communities of Practice (often referred to as CoP) as the framing construct for the overarching scope of the curriculum. Communities of practice are formed by those who engage in collective learning within a shared domain of interest and through that interaction develop shared practice over time (Wenger, 2011). A community of practice curriculum is an emergent learning pathway for practitioners and scholars who share a common interest in or focus upon an area of research or scholarship that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

The Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model recognizes the multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of communities of practice and bridges between Collegiate/Scholarly offerings (arrayed down the right side) and Professional Practice offerings (arrayed down the left side). The feature, thereby, anchors the curriculum in both the scholarly and practitioner realms, forming the foundation for a Scholar/Practitioner curriculum. The discipline layer in the Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Modelrecognizes that community of practice learning needs are translated and organized by discipline or field of study experts into programs of study. In turn the formal curricular structure provides a sequential term/course view of the learning opportunities designed to meet the needs of those wishing to enter or continue learning within a community of practice.

In Closing

I hope this brief sketch provides an evolutionary view of how the foundations of curricular innovation are driving the future of Academic Strategic Enrollment Management. The emerging  Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model permits dramatic expansion and integration of collegiate curriculum into the continuing education and learning requirements of the new millennium.

Stay connected and engage with your colleagues join the ASEM Group in Linked In, and join us in Claremont on December 8th for the Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management and Sustainability where we will discuss the Proficiency-Based Curriculum Architecture Model.

Achieving Strategic Position in the
Global Learning Marketplace: Part 7

Programs of Study: Part 5

Programs of Study: Part 5


This is the fifth post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

The fundamental tenet of Academic Strategic Enrollment Management is “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else.” The Program of Study is the primary way by which students enroll and revenues flow to the institution. It is also a primary determinant of the costs to operate the curriculum. The Program of Study is a formal component of a Curriculum Architecture. There are normally many Programs of Study within an institutions Curriculum. The Program of Study is defined as the prescribed sequence of courses required to attain a credential. We refer to the Program of Study as a POS (read each letter). For illustration purposes we have selected a 40 course, four year baccalaureate degree program to illustrate the fundamentals of Program of Study design.

Mapping a Program of Study

Illustrative Baccalaureate Degree (Program of Study) POS Matrix

Figure 1: Illustrative Baccalaureate Degree Program of Study (POS) Matrix

A Program of Study is shaped by the specifications delineated in the institution’s curriculum architecture. In the illustration Figure 1, courses in major are designated in Green. Courses required from the core curriculum or to meet general education requirements are in Blue. Selective courses, those chosen from an options list to meet a requirement, are in Yellow, and open electives (learner’s unrestricted choice) are in Red. There is also an overload option if financial policy for the institution permits overload within full time tuition policy.

Every Program of Study and Course are endowed with specifications. Program of Study specifications include such defined characteristics as calendar model, schedule model, admissions prerequisites, program sequence requisites, and course options (elective, selective, open elective).

Program of Study Specifications (Illustrative)

  • A Program of Study is designed to result in a specific credential; and
  • inherits the credentials specifications; such as
    • Calendar Model (Defines number of terms, Credit Requirements for Full-time, Term Pattern for Course Offerings, …),
    • Schedule Model (Defines Daily/Weekly/Term Course Offering Pattern,
    • Admission Requirements,
    • Credit Accumulation (i.e. 120 credit degree limit)
    • Distribution Requirements (Defines course thematic requirements i.e. major, core, general education, upper division or 100/200/300/400 level)
  • Enrollment Specifications
    • Cohort Size (a class commencing the POS together in a 1st term)
    • Course Section Size
    • Course Sequencing Model
  • Program Design Specifications
    • Defines Course Requirements
    • Electives (includes Open Electives, Program Electives, Selectives)

Course Specifications (Illustrative)

  • are designed to define the learner engagement model, learner experience, pedagogy and resources.
  • Learner Engagement Model specifies how the course syllabus content will be encountered by the learner.
  • Learner experience is the view by the learner of how well the course facilitated learning for them.
  • Pedagogy refers to the learning methods available to the learner in their quest to master the syllabus.
  • Faculty qualified to teach the course are an essential element of the profile of course specifications.
  • Resources include room requirements, digital platform requirements, as well as supplies and equipment.

These brief descriptive lists are not intended as check list or meant to convey the comprehensive scope and content but rather to develop the concept that specifications drive cost, effectiveness, quality and recruitability of the ccurriculum. The line between Program and Course specifications is a blurry one. In our curriculum work we use our program planning system to help identify and organize the requirements of courses across a curriculum. It is a daunting task and we observe that it is common for institutions to manage the complexity of it all by exception, meaning everything is assumed fine unless someone if complaining.

In the end it all has to come together and then it must be presented to the marketplace. Crafting marketing strategies and campaigns is as much art as science. When both art and science are used they result in a narrative that rationally presents the program and courses to specific target market segments in a way that differentiates them from competitors.

 Why does all of this matter?

The curriculum architecture and the programs of study that flow from it establish both the recruitability (marketability) and carrying cost of the curriculum. They determine the success as much as the skill and design of marketing campaigns. Enrollment management strategy is bringing all of these into focus and the reason we have begun the Academic Strategic Enrollment Management initiative. Success is measured by the degree to which the curriculum together with recruitment, retention, marketing, and institutional effectiveness generates a stable financial platform upon which the curriculum is supported. The reality is “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!” To illustrate the Margin Case Study begins to construct the nature of the relationship between curriculum architecture, program and course specifications and the financial viability of the curriculum.

Margin Case Study

This case example of margin is a highly distilled illustrative study from a client engagement illustrates sustainable scenario.


Working together, academic and enrollment management can develop very effective strategies for sustainability. It is a complex process requiring synthesis across disciplines, and integrating them into a future focused scenario. When scaled to a university the impact is enormous. The case example below illustrates the difference by summing the rooms required and the resulting square footage of academic space required to meet the needs of a fixed number course offered under different curriculum architecture models in planned growth from 20,000 enrollments to 40,000 enrollments. The difference in cost to build the most efficient (estimated at ~$2 Billion) v.s. the least efficient (estimated at ~$3 Billion) was an extraordinary $1 Billion dollars.

Room Count Comparison by Scenario and Schedule Model (Chart)

Room Count Comparison by Scenario and Schedule Model (Chart)


In Closing

The role of the Program of Study in Academic Strategic Enrollment Management strategy development and implementation is a pivotal one. It is important to keep a balanced perspective. MOOC’s, for example, as a Program of Study strategy, are primarily experiments in scalability. They are not in themselves going to cause the demise nor save institutions. Online programs are an initiative that explores and develops a curriculum delivery/learning modality. The emerging global digital learning ecosystem is a shift in the foundational repository of knowledge and information. It results in a shift in access, utilization, manipulation, and assimilation of learning into everyday life. The future is not about the doom of higher education but rather the extraordinary future that stands before it. Curriculum architecture, the program of study, and the credential are extremely important and deserve close scrutiny, evaluation and deep nurturing attention to keep them improving in both effectiveness and efficiency.

Proficiency Based Curriculum Model: Part 6

SEM Matrix: Part 4

Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix: Part 4


This is the fourth post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

The Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix is a powerful tool in the Academic Strategic Enrollment Management toolbox. The  Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix provides a comprehensive process framework for developing or evaluating strategies, capacities and operational initiatives. The fundamental purpose of Academic SEM is to achieve and maintain the optimum alignment between an institution’s strategies, curriculum, policies and practices and the learning needs and requirements of learners active in the global learning marketplace. The framework guides the planning process toward developing academic and enrollment strategies, tactics, goals and objectives.

The SEM Matrix is a tool developed by MGD+A to frame a structured dialog around the intersection of the seven dimensions of Strategic Enrollment Management with the seven learner-centered questions. The seven dimensions of Strategic Enrollment Management include strategy, the academic domain, recruitment, retention, operations, the policy domain, and finally the analytical foundations of all Strategic Enrollment Management efforts. Answers to the seven learner-centered questions can ensure that curriculum fulfills institutional and fiduciary missions. they include:

  1. the deep understanding of the populations to be served;
  2. knowledge of the objectives they seek;
  3. an evaluation of learning provider models available to them;
  4. a comprehensive integration of learning theory, methods and principles appropriate to successful learning;
  5. a strategic reconceptualization of the overall curriculum architecture providing a full scope of programs and approaches;
  6. a synthesis of specific curriculum configurations designed to meet specific learner’s needs; and finally
  7. the design, development and deployment of the array of services required by learners to meet their objectives.

The Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix is displayed in Figure 1. The green axis of the table is comprised of seven learner-centered questions juxtaposed against seven dimensions of Strategic Enrollment Management displayed along the blue axis.


Figure 1: Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix

Using the Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix

The matrix can be used in a number of ways. It can be used in committee or group process to guide, frame and prompt discussion, harvest insight, mitigate uninformed opinion or cow-path thinking. In decision making it can be used to collect evidence, guide analysis, frame research, discover options, and refine strategies, goals and objectives. In the process of developing an institutional strategic plan, master academic plan or strategic enrollment management plan it can be used to frame the structure and frame the outline of the plan.

In Structured Dialog

The matrix provides a systematic method to frame questions, provide answers and understand analysis when used to help structure a dialog with constituents. For example, the cell labeled A1 can prompt a dialogic structure around the question of ‘what demographics do we seek and how does it fit with our overarching strategy?’ It can then frame more questions around strategy such as what are the relevant demographics – Cells A1, B1, C1. What learning objectives do learners seek? – Cell A2, or what do we provide in our curriculum? – Cell B2, or what yields in enrollment decision processes? – Cell C2. What means do we have for engaging demographic segments? – Cell E1, or do our policies align with that market segment? – Cell F1.

In determining impact and decision making

The focus can be very specific. For example, in reviewing a client graduate program of study MGD+A discerned that the assumed demographic was the characteristic local (line of sight) recruitment pool that was the default focus of the institution. Clarity was achieved using framed analysis of dimensions across Rows A, B, and C highlighting all seven learner-centered questions in each. The analysis revealed that the target demographic was non-profits and by default the presumed geographic reach was line of sight. Being presumed and never stated it shaped thinking and design and was not made clear for evaluation purposes. The program of study design took on such specific characteristics that it designed itself into such a small market segment that enrollment health and self-sufficiency could never be achieved. The Matrix was used to move the team from local, non-profit to global, online, with direct ties to multiple national and international communities of practice who were immediately assimilated into the strategy.

In plan development

The matrix provides the structured framework for developing plans especially a Strategic, Academic or Enrollment Management Plan. Developing a Strategic Enrollment Management Plan can begin with delineating the seven dimensions of Strategic Enrollment Management. For example, we began with Cell A1 with a client to reveal a geographic mix profile of 31% local/commuter, 47% non commuter in state, 19% from 17 of 49 states, and 3% international. Through dialog and analysis of Cell A.1 and Cell A.3 consensus was developed that the geographic profile of its student demographics was a weaknesses. As a result the SEM Plan began by developing one of its primary strategies—to change the geographic mix of through a sustained Academic SEM campaign. Focused planning was begun in the areas Cells B1,2,3,5,6,7 to identify specific program/service packages for development. A specific recruitment campaign was developed using Cells C1-7, targeting a cluster of 11 states and 3 international metropolitan areas for sustained recruitment over three consecutive annual cycles.

These are just a few examples of using the Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix. The Matrix directly supports and provides a method to stay laser focused on the fundamental Goals of a Strategic Enrollment Management initiative.

  1. Achieve and maintain the optimum strategic position of the institution in the marketplace.
  2. Assess and Inform the academic enterprises alignment with the global learning sphere. (Market demand and availability as-well-as competitive restraints such as regulations)
  3. Ensure economic health through sound management of enrollment profiles, yields, ratios and distributions.
  4. Achieve and maintain the optimum recruitment, retention, and attainment of students where “optimum” is defined within the academic context.

Origins of the Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix

The Strategic Enrollment Management Matrix is a modified Delphi type method and is based on the assumption that group judgments are more valid than individual judgments. The Delphi method was developed circa 1959 by Rand researchers Olaf Helmer, Norman Dalkey, and Nicholas Rescher. Delphi as a method morphed to a more advanced evolutionary form known as a Cross-Impact Analysis. The Cross-Impact Analysis was developed by Theodore Gordon and Olaf Helmer in 1966 and was designed to help determine how relationships between events would influence outcomes and reduce uncertainty in the future. James Morrison and William Renfo began to apply these techniques in the 1980’s to environmental scanning and futures work in higher education (see Futures Research and the Strategic Planning Process: Implications for Higher Education (J-B ASHE Higher Education Report Series (AEHE)). I began to use these methods shortly after attending a seminar with Jim Morrison to help develop group understanding of the complex dynamics involved in developing enrollment management strategies.

Programs of Study: Part 5

Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework: Part 3

Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework: Part 3


This is the third post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

What is the Learner Centered Curriculum Framework?

“There’s this idea that if we just tell the story better, we will get more students,” he says. That thinking, he argues, misunderstands enrollment management and the plight of small colleges in the postrecession economy. Creating a new branding campaign might seem easier than assessing whether academic programs are meeting students’ needs. But one isn’t a substitute for the other. “It’s not what we say on our website, or how many hands we shake, or how many applications we get,” Mr. Kieffer says. “No, it’s, What are we offering?” He sees enrollment as a two-part puzzle: getting prospective students to want what a college offers, and offering what they want. “A lot of schools right now are desperate,” he says, “focusing solely on getting people to want what they offer.” — Roger Kieffer former senior vice president for enrollment at Trinity International University, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 19, 2014, Vol LXI, Number 3, Page A-18

The Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework (LCCF) provides a conceptual structure to guide dialog and inquiry about curriculum. It frames curriculum in its broadest strategic context and provides a framework for the design, implementation, and evaluation of curriculum. When employing the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework, the complexities of translating mission, vision, and strategic position into effective curriculum are mapped across seven interlocking constructs:

  1. Learner Populations;
  2. Learner Objectives;
  3. Learning Provider Models;
  4. Learning Theory and Methods;
  5. Curriculum Architecture;
  6. Curriculum Configurations; and
  7. Learner Support Services

These constructs are, in turn, decoded or operationalized through seven learner-centered questions. When asked and answered, the questions are ideal for building, improving, and sustaining design integrity across curricular elements and guiding a wide array of institutional internal and external alignments.

The Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework is a tool that helps frame strategic dialog and analysis around the principles and practices of the concept learner-centered academic environments. This article describes the seven learner-centered questions that emanate from the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework and  help frame a basic enrollment management perspective useful for strategic enrollment management professionals when they dialog with academics. The table below can be printed and guide deeper insight into the options revealed through each question.  The elements under the questions are not to be used as a check list but rather a list of prompts and possibilities. We invite constructive comments and suggestions as-well-as any case examples of its use.

Seven Learner-Centered Questions


Learner Populations

A deep understanding of the populations to be served is required for effective curriculum design and delivery. For this reason, the very first question to be addressed is: Who are the learners? The answer flows from and can inform an entity’s strategic decisions regarding mission, vision, and strategic position (see Developing Institutional Strategy). Several questions cascade to give deep meaning to this basic question. Who are the learners of the 21st century? What learner populations does the institution currently serve? Who could or should the institution be serving? And, so on. Understanding who the learners are is an essential and often overlooked component of shaping curriculum for a changing society. The foundation of a learner-centered approach is to fully understand learning demand as segmented by salient learner population characteristics. Once understood, academic planners can identify gaps between the learner populations present in society, those the institution desires to serve, and those it currently serves. A learner-centered approach, guided by the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework, is most fruitful when supported by open inquiry and discourse regarding the learner populations found within an institution’s target market areas and those within the global learning marketplace.

Learner Objectives

A related set of questions emanates from the second learner-centered question within the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework: What objectives do the learners seek? Related questions include: What do the learners of the 21st century seek? What are their learning and credential objectives? How do objectives change in the course of a person’s life? Learners seek a vast array of learning objectives and these objectives vary over time and the course of one’s life (see 5 Bold Predictions For The Future Of Higher Education). Knowledge of learner objectives is a prerequisite for understanding motivation and, therefore, should guide the sequencing of learning experiences as well as inform marketing, recruitment, and retention efforts. Learner objectives should be a fundamental design element for the overall structure and intent of a curriculum and, therefore, incorporated early in program and curriculum design and review processes.

Learning Provider Models

A third area of inquiry flows from asking: What learning provider models are available to the learners? Corollary questions include: What options are open to 21st century learners as they seek their objectives? What curricular models, business models, and assessment models are in play? What choices do various learner populations make and why? What evidence exists on the effectiveness of the various provider models? The digital knowledge age is an age in which learning opportunities can be made available to learners anytime, anywhere. As a result, a complex network of learning resources and provider models is emerging to meet the demand for learning across multiple venues. Models range from traditional collegiate models to open-term models, online, and a host of other variations. Faculty, academic leaders, strategic planners, and curriculum designers are well advised to fully explore, describe, and understand various provider models in order to adequately assess the emerging learning landscape. Such an assessment builds understanding of emerging best practice as well as deep understanding of the competitive enrollment context of higher education. Furthermore, examining provider models and the learner populations for whom they have value builds deep insight into the learner-centered approach. Strategic curricular decisions will emerge from a synthesis of an institution’s knowledge of the populations, objectives, and models present in today’s global learning space.

Learning Theories and Methods

The fourth set of questions revolves around the learning process. Indeed, the learning process is extremely important in learner-centered curriculum design. The most effective designs reflect a comprehensive integration of learning theory and methods appropriate to successful learning. Therefore, the fourth learner-centered question within the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework is: What learning theories and methods are appropriate for specific learners and the objectives they seek? What learning methods help inform us of the appropriate curricular approach to take with specific learner populations? How do we focus the curriculum on the individual learner? The American Psychological Association developed a 14 point learner-centered framework that provides an effective baseline for discussion and design. There are more than 50 major learning theories, each focused on a different aspect of learning or learner population. Synthesizing effective curriculum requires the matching of theory and practice to learner population characteristics and objectives. The point, in short, is to systematically build curriculum to incorporate effective learning methods.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Architecture

The fifth area of inquiry emanating from the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework results from a complex, yet straightforward question: What is the existing curriculum architecture of the institution or educational entity? Does the architecture provide an alignment between the learner, the curriculum, and society? Curriculum Architecture refers to the design, structure, and relationships within and across an institution’s published curricular offerings. A curriculum’s architecture is foundationally defined by the formal programs of study authorized by a governing body that directly controls the rules of curriculum design and delivery. Thus, the architecture formalizes the curricular attributes an institution is committed to support and develop. It establishes alignment points with specific segments of the learner markets prescribed within an institution’s mission. Ideally, curriculum is both learner and learning centered. The curriculum architecture can also be used to synthesize an institution’s comprehensive academic master plan. The architecture of a curriculum describes the style, method of design, basic construction, key components, and underlying philosophies used to build the modules, courses, and programs that make up the entire diverse curricula.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Configuration

The sixth area of inquiry and discourse keenly focuses on meeting the specific and particular learning needs of the learners an institution has selected or been charged to serve. The sixth learner-centered question is: What specific curriculum can be configured to meet the learning needs of the learner population(s) an institution has chosen or been charged to serve? Will the configurations achieve intended outcomes? How will that be assessed? A particular curriculum configuration is drawn from an institution’s available (current or planned) architectural options. The configuration constructs a specific curriculum from all the elements of the architecture for a specific population seeking specific objectives using specific teaching, learning, and assessment methods. Across an institution, a wide variety of curriculum configurations are deployed.

Learner-Centered Support Services

The seventh area of inquiry within the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework addresses the design and delivery of the array of services required by learners to meet their objectives. What support services are necessary to enable specific learner population(s) to successfully complete the curriculum and meet their objectives? Services are as important within a learner-centered curriculum as is the design and configuration of learning experiences. The curriculum alone is insufficient to deliver effective and efficient learning. Advising, counseling, and assessment are among the most important processes to be integrated into curriculum design. Too often they are add-ons. Other services are required to be sure learners are available to access the curriculum and learn. For example, assessment and placement, advising, counseling, financial aid, and a host of other services are extremely important to the process of creating learner success. As each learner population is understood, services must be fused to curriculum design so that pathways can be efficiently navigated and successfully completed.

Alternate Names

You may find the concepts outlines here referred to differently, some common alternate names are:

  • Subject Centered
  • Student Centered

SEM Matrix: Part 4

Curriculum Architecture: Part 2

Curriculum Architecture: Part 2

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Series

This is the second post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

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.

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Principle 3: Strategic Curriculum Architecture

The objective of the concept of strategic architecture is to align curriculum with the realities of the emerging global learning marketplace. It must have a deep digital footprints and strong social connectivity to ensure that it drives the academic portfolios strategic position in the learning marketplace. A full articulation and discussion of strategic curriculum architecture is beyond the scope of a blog post. We will focus in this post on establishing a foundation understanding of what the architecture is and how it underpins enrollment management.

A curriculum architecture is defined by four underlying domains:

  1. Programs of Study
    The taxonomy of degrees, certificates, sequences, courses, modules, and learning objects within a school’s curriculum inventory defines the primary design feature of the school. This domain anchors the architecture, shifts attention to outcomes and program-based design elements, and, thereby, facilitates the alignment of the academic master planning process with other institutional processes.
  2. Authentications
    This domain details accrediting, licensing, and assessment oversight organizations, the units warranted, and related specifications. In doing so, the architecture incorporates the School’s accreditation and outcomes assessment planning processes.
  3. Delivery and Learner Access Strategies
    This domain tracks program term parameters, schedule model parameters, delivery modes, facilities implications and other delivery specifications.
  4. Business Model Variables
    This domain specifies the human resource specifications, instructional and non-instructional funding, and other resource specifications required to deliver the curriculum.

The fundamentals of allocating a series of learning experiences by building and delivering the curriculum is achieved through the structure of the curriculums architecture. 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. The architecture defines the curriculum system used by the institution.

A Systems View

Any curriculum system facilitates learning content being conceptualized, designed, assessed, packaged, managed and delivered to the learner. All curricular systems have certain characteristics. For example:

  1. All curricula reside within an institutional or organizational context defined by the mission of the organization in which it resides, the stakeholders who shape that mission, and their vision of where the institution is going and how it is to evolve.
  2. All curricula result in outcomes, in other words, they have a tangible and often intangible impact upon those that engage it. The outcomes may be expected or unexpected; they may be intended or unintended; they may be measurable or difficult to ascertain.
  3. All curricula reside within an economic reality that defines opportunities and constraints. It may be a stable, adequate, inadequate, growing, shrinking, or in a state of flux. The economic realities shape a great deal of what the curriculum is and how it is delivered.
  4. All curricula have an architecture either both well-defined and articulated or defacto having evolved over time. By architecture, we mean that all curricula have a defined structure that fits many parts together. Each identified part exists within the defined structure of the system and plays a specific role in the overall function of the system.
  5. The sum of these characteristics helps define a curriculum’s system architecture.

Defining a Curriculums Architecture

A curriculum architecture has an inherent structure. The first task is to identify and describe common structural elements that contribute to or make up a curriculums architecture.

Curriculum Architecture


Includes the influence of various institutional, school, college department, and discipline missions on the structure and content of the curriculum. These provide the context of the fundamental purpose of the institution. Mission (and vision for that matter) is translated into curriculum by focusing upon seven interrelated questions.

  1. What is the demographics of the learners an institution seeks to serve?
  2. What objectives do those learners seek to achieve?
  3. What learning opportunities are available from the global learning environment?
  4. What teaching and learning methods are available to help specific learners, seeking specific objectives, within a competitive learning marketplace achieve their intended learning outcomes.
  5. What is the overall curriculum architecture of the institution being evaluated?
  6. What is the configuration of a specific curriculum being selected?
  7. What learner services are necessary to enable the learner to complete the selected curriculum successfully?

These seven structured questions provide a framework for helping to translate an institutions mission into curriculum. And conversely they provide a framework with which to evaluate institutional mission through the curriculum lens. They are also a very effective framework to form Strategic enrollment Management Strategies.

Vision Influence

The influence of various institutional, school, college, department, discipline visions on the structure and content of the curriculum. From an entities (school, college, department, discipline) vision emerges its trajectory (where it is plotting to go) in the near, mid, and long term future. The curriculums architecture must enable sustaining a trajectory.

Academic Philosophy

The influence of various academic philosophies such as liberal arts licensed professional, scholar/practitioner, and accreditation aligned, on the structure and content of the curriculum. A philosophy provides the root of the values structure held by the academic community. Multiple philosophies are common in an institution. Discretely identifying and defining them helps enormously in developing and implementing conflict resolution strategies.


The scope of the curriculum establishes the various levels, credential categories, discipline array, credit and non-credit mix, and such intellectual elements as the role of research. Attention to scope is important because the opportunistic nature of the curriculum often induces scope creep (the slow expansion of the scope without questioning ‘do we really want to go there’). A curriculums scope provides both focus and boundaries that are important as other non-academic entities align with the academic enterprise. Online is an excellent example of an initiative emanating from deployment strategies that can seriously induce scope creep.

Academic Organizational Design

Organizational design includes but means more than just the academic organizations structure. The design also includes the functional components of the curriculum itself such as the hierarchy of the curriculum as reflected in the relationships between University ↔ College ↔ Department ↔ Program ↔ Course ↔ Module ↔ Reusable Learning Object. Such academic structures require a deep look for how they align and support the overall curriculums architecture. Failure to identify and formally define the basic elements of the academic organization leads to deep and damaging confusion to how effectively the curriculum functions.

Programs of Study

The architecture is shaped by the influence of specific content, curricular sequences, program and course outcomes and learning objectives on the design and configuration of individual programs. The program of study provides a crisp learner-centered view of the learning pathways taken to achieve specific credentials and outcomes. A common method of developing, displaying and reviewing programs of study is helpful in conveying the specific management criteria for the curriculum as a whole.

Teaching and Learning Methods and Strategies

The influence of various teaching and learning methods and strategies on the structure and content of the curriculum cannot be over emphasized. As curriculum is designed, developed, and implemented they are either enabled or inhibited by the curriculums architecture. Formally considering their influence is imperative as we look to the future.

Accreditations, Authentications, and Assessment Strategies

The influence that various accreditation standards, licensing requirements, assessment requirements, federal and state curricular regulations has on the structure and content of the curriculum must be accommodated in the architecture.

Configuration and Deployment Strategies

The influence of various deployment strategies such as the face-to-face, online, satellite facility, laptop university, (host of others) on the structure and content of the curriculum is important. Basic structures like scheduling model, academic calendar configurations, pricing and packaging strategies are essential to establishing a curriculum architecture that meets the needs of the learners to be served.

Business Models Strategies

The influence of the various ways curricula is packaged, marketed, delivered and consumed on the structure and content of the curriculum must be considered in the design of the overall structure. The business interface is as important as the learning interface in the overall design. Strategies such as pricing, content access and control, assessment integrity, learner transcripts, and a host of others must be aligned and accommodated within the business models used.

In Closing

We have mapped within this post the basics of what curriculum architecture includes. Before developing or applying any tools or methods it is important to frame the entire concept of Academic Strategic Enrollment Management. Next we will explore some of the concepts around Learner-Centered approaches to curriculum.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework: Part 3

“Its the Curriculum Stupid”: Part 1