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    How to Successfully Launch a New Academic Program at Your University

    If you’re planning to launch a new programme at your university, this guide will teach you how to do it successfully.
    Last updated:
    April 18, 2024

    At Full Fabric, we’ve been lucky enough to work alongside several universities who have launched new academic programmes – an exciting endeavour, but one that relies on careful planning and strategic delivery.

    If your university is planning to launch something new, whether it's a brand new degree or a programme designed to meet the needs of a particular industry, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will take you through the steps to effectively market a new offering, with the ultimate goal of attracting the right students.

    1. Get the positioning right

    The first step to successfully launching a new academic programme at your university is to define your collective vision for the venture. What is its mission and how will it make an impact on students and the wider community? Does it address or fill a gap in the industry landscape, for instance?

    Positioning your programme and defining its vision should be a collaborative effort involving people from different departments, including the academic, admissions and marketing teams. As part of this step, set measurable learning outcomes that students can expect to have gained by the time they graduate.

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    2. Build a marketing plan

    A strategic marketing plan is a must-have: as well as helping you pin down your goals for the programme, it will enable you to get your message out to the right audience at the right time.

    To “speak” to the right audience for your programme, you’ll need to establish your student personas early on in the marketing planning process. As the dean or programme manager, you will already have an understanding of who the programme is designed for and what their needs will be.

    Collaborate with the marketing and admissions teams when creating personas; they can provide insight on the type of questions students have asked in the past and what could impact their enrollment decision. Career counsellors can provide valuable input too, and can help steer the right students towards the new programme.

    3. Define your admissions criteria

    Defining your admissions criteria and outlining the admissions process are both key steps towards a successful launch, and will help ensure the new programme attracts the right students. The criteria should align with the programme’s goals, and the admissions process should be transparent and non-discriminatory.  

    Once you have a full understanding of these goals, you can determine any prerequisites for the programme, including minimum academic qualifications, any work experience expectations and other necessary skills.

    Will applicants be expected to provide personal statements, letters of recommendation or portfolios? If their application is successful, will applicants need to take part in an interview? This information should be established early on.

    4. Create an admissions map

    Creating a flowchart that summarises each step of the student journey will help you and the other teams involved in delivering the programme to understand what’s required and how each stage feeds into the next.

    The flow chart will be very useful for the admissions and marketing teams in particular, acting as an aide for the creation of customised communications intended to nurture prospective students through the application funnel. Each communication can be automated through your higher education CRM.

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    5. Craft content for the admissions journey

    If you’re responsible for delivering or managing the new programme, the marketing team will value your input when it comes to developing content that resonates with prospective students at each stage of the student journey.

    You’ll need content for advertising campaigns, website and landing pages, the application portal, email campaigns and workflows. Learn from what’s worked – or hasn’t – previously to determine which type of content is likely to engage your personas.

    Your messaging also needs to align with the university's wider brand aesthetic and tone of voice. Think about how you could leverage video content and testimonials from academics, and act on insights relating to engagement from your CRM.

    6. Host promotional events

    Think ahead and plan events to promote your new programme. These can include in-person and virtual information sessions, workshops, webinars and Q&As where the audience has the opportunity to ask questions to faculty and staff.

    When planning an event, and before promoting it, establish:

    • A timeline
    • The location, date, format and duration
    • The agenda, including presentations
    • The event team and committee

    Ask faculty members, alumni or industry professionals if they’d like to speak at your event – their insights are invaluable to prospective students. Even though the programme is new, alumni can still share stories about their time studying with you.

    Once you’ve established the logistics, think about how you could get the message out on your university’s social media channels, website and email newsletters.

    7. Streamline the admissions journey

    Ensure the application process is state-of-the-art.

    Digital innovation is transforming the way prospective students apply to universities, and how staff assess application forms and communicate with students.

    Unlike paper-based or legacy systems, modern digital tools are able to facilitate a streamlined and user-friendly admissions journey, making it easy for students to upload documents, enrol and pay tuition fees.

    Your university CRM and admissions management system should allow you to track and manage each student's progress, and automate time-appropriate updates and reminders. You should also have the tools to personalise the content you send according to different variables, such as programme of study and interests.

    With a state-of-the-art admissions system in place, you’ll also be able to collaborate on the admissions process across different teams, assigning tasks to specific individuals based on their role. This saves time while creating transparency.

    8. Nurture a community

    Building a community around your new programme will help it become sustainable.

    It’ll also work wonders for attracting new students through “word of mouth”. Ultimately, you’ll need to create a supportive, engaging and inclusive environment; one that values collaboration and learning.

    One way to start nurturing a community is to establish online and physical spaces where people can interact, such as social media groups and physical spaces on campus. You could also facilitate peer support systems, such as study groups.

    As you move forward, get feedback from the community in order to fully understand their needs and identify areas for improvement. By nurturing a sense of belonging and shared purpose, the community around your new programme will grow.

    Launching a new academic programme is a big step that requires collaboration across university departments. For a successful launch, it’s important to be flexible and responsive to circumstances and the needs of students.  

    With technology, collaboration and careful planning on your side, your new programme is more likely to compete and thrive in the higher education landscape, while contributing to the growth of your institution. We wish you the best of luck!

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