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.

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

Academic Strategy: Curriculum Driven Facility Optimization

MGDA specializes in strategic analysis guiding fundamental academic decisions that optimize resources, facilities, and revenue potential leading to increased margin. This type of analysis is particularly valuable when building a new University where there is no campus history, no patterns to accommodate, and not reference points to use to develop specifications. The simplest form of data one could use (and many do) is to just look at an existing institution about the size and clone it. There a number of reasons this is not advisable, some examples include:

  1. The current paradigm shift to a digital learning ecosystem is changing room utilization use patterns, room configuration requirements, capacity and technology requirements.
  2. Without some optimization analysis, low utilization artifacts can continue unrecognized and unabated.
  3. There are multiple sources of sub optimization. Low schedule utilization, inappropriate course or pedagogy for a room configuration, disruption of optimum schedule, …

To illustrate the magnitude of difference between optimization scenarios we offer the following real world example from our client experience.

Comparative Analysis Comprehensive University

MGDA assessed the curriculum of a comprehensive university and analyzed four growth scenarios and their impact on academic facility space. The university is committed to double its size and grow from its current 20,000 student enrollment to 40,000 students. This summary table shows the total room count across all 82 Programs of Study. The blue columns show total room counts at 20K enrollment, the orange shows the count at 30K enrollments and the grey columns show rooms required at 40K enrollment.

Room Count Comparison by Scenario and Schedule Model (Chart)

The Room Count by Scenario and Schedule Model chart is very revealing. Academic administrators and facility managers will immediately recognize very different perspectives and beliefs reflected in the scenarios and the politics of the institution. In the end funding agencies required some assessment of room utilization possible and an unambiguous and impartial view of capacity. The chart shows actual room counts by stage of enrollment growth for each of four facility ownership scenarios.

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Michael G. Dolence and Associates teamed with the architectural firm of Perkins+Will as academic planning and prototyping consultant for the design of the 3.2 million-square-foot, 2,000 acre campus. The prototype drew upon a comprehensive course and program repository assembled within the MGD+A proprietary academic planning system. Over 800 curricula informed the development of 1,476 courses to support 52 programs of study to guide the University’s language institute, eight colleges, and six schools within the College of Health. The prototype identified specific design criteria for the physical facilities required to teach each program of study. The prototyping process resulted in a design that accommodates 42,000 students in minimum curriculum architecture format and over 70,000 using an optimized curriculum architecture. The University currently enrolls more than 60,000 students.

View the Perkins+Will Image Gallery for this project.
View project photographer Bill Lyons Photo Gallery.
View the full article in Contract Magazine – March 2014, page 42.

King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University (KSAU) For Health Sciences

King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University (KSAU) For Health Sciences Michael G. Dolence and Associates collaborated with the architectural firm of Perkins+Will as academic planning and prototyping consultant for the design of three health sciences campuses of KSAU (Riyadh 8,000 FTE, Jeddah 4,000 FTE  and Al Hasa 3,000 FTE). MGD+A drew upon a comprehensive course and program repository assembled within their proprietary academic planning system to provide the design curriculum and specifications for  the three campus University of Health Sciences.  The academic structure comprised seven Colleges including Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Applied Medical Sciences, Nursing, Basic Sciences, and Public Health & Informatics, as-well-as, a continuing education division.  The prototype identified specific design criteria for the physical facilities required to teach each program of study and projected required facilities for 30 years in the future.

University of Salahaddin – Erbil Iraq (in Design 2013-2014)

Michael G. Dolence and Associates partnered with the global construction management firm Dar Al-Handasah and  the architectural firm Perkins and Will as academic planning and prototyping consultant for the design and phased construction of the new campus. A comprehensive curriculum was constructed and a  50 year prototype developed permitting the exploration of multiple scenarios  to inform project design and implementation.  Highlights of the project include a 135 laboratory science complex, an applied engineering complex, a performing and visual arts complex, a campus school, and an English language institute.

University of Salahaddin – Erbil Iraq (in Design 2013-2014)

University of Salahaddin – Erbil Iraq (in Design 2013-2014)