Adding Graduate Degrees and a Graduate School at a Traditional Bachelor Degree Granting Institution
To make transformational change, one must take certain considerations into account. articles about the topic. There is a gap, however, in information about taking institutions from the undergraduate level to the graduate level. Academic leaders must make the case for taking an institution to the graduate level. Will the institution miss out on the potential market share if they don’t make the jump?
There needs to be institutional buy-in from the very top, including senior leadership, trustees, faculty, alumni, and external stakeholders. Will adding graduate degrees change the mission of the institution, or will it fit the mission of the institution? Is there sufficient market share in the institution’s existing footprint, or will online delivery be necessary? The institution must answer these questions to make the case.
An institution must be committed to providing the administrative resources to develop and launch graduate degrees, and there will likely be a ramp-up period during which no profit will be realized. There must be institutional commitment in terms of financial resources. The institution will need to hire faculty and administrators, including content specialists who can develop and launch the degrees. The new programs’ faculty and staff will need to write courses and syllabi, select case studies, and consider textbooks. Before any of this can take place, the institution must do research into the feasibility of the new program. The institution will have to acknowledge competitors, market share, and demand for graduate degrees.
Institutional research must include analysis of the competition. This research should include competition in the institution’s region or even its city, the delivery modality that will be most effective, and whether to offer face-to-face, hybrid, and/or online courses. Institutions must also determine a price point for the new programs. Will the institution price above, below, or in alignment with other regional institutions? The institution must also look at labor projections and the market’s need for a particular graduate degree. This will truly determine if there is enough demand and market share for the institution. Lastly, many stakeholders will want to know when a return on investment (ROI) will take place. As you can see, data-driven decision-making must be front and center.
An institution must also look at regulatory concerns and prepare a substantive change report. State approval and regional accreditor approval is be required before a program can move forward, in a process that requires drafting several reports. There will also be state and regional accreditor site visits that need to be included in the institution’s timeline for launching the new program(s). Both the state and the regional accreditor will want to know how the institution plans to make the cultural transformation from being a baccalaureate institution to one that offers graduate degrees. Also, as you can well imagine, both the state and the regional accreditor will want to see projections on finances and enrollment once program approval is granted.
Credibility and identity are the final considerations. Once the program has been approved, how will the institution build new program credibility and new program identity? The institution will need to consider the needs of program accreditation and add that process to the timeline.
The institution will need to draw on its stakeholders to form academic advisory boards. These boards may include key industry stakeholders from the region, faculty from peer institutions, and alumni. Alumni can be particularly useful when building new program credibility and identity. Ultimately, this process will end in curriculum development and a soft launch to a target audience (alumni in many cases), and then full market and recruitment campaigns. These campaigns, will, of course, cost money, which is part of the financial resource consideration mentioned earlier.
To reach the point of program launch, the institution must establish a timeline to determine how many years this transformation will take. Yes, I said years, and that is for each graduate degree the institution will be adding. If the institution plans to add multiple graduate degrees, this process will need to be repeated for each of them.
As you can see, there is a great deal to consider both internally and externally before adding a graduate program to a bachelors-degree-granting institution. I personally believe the rewards outweigh the risks associated with this institutional transformation. A great deal of time and money go into the effort, but in the long term, it is well worth the resources to make the leap.
Neil Trotta, EdD, is dean of the School of Graduate Studies and associate professor at Fisher College.