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The Fiscal Challenges of Academic Program Development

Jimmy Pawelski
March 26, 2024
4 mins


  • Developing and maintaining academic programs at colleges comes with major fiscal challenges.
  • High costs and lengthy timelines can lead to new programs failing to attract enough enrollment.
  • Innovative partnership models can help lower upfront investment and reduce risk.
  • Rize Education offers a consortium model to share high-quality programs with enrollment marketing and student support services to ensure success.

The Need for New Academic Program Development ‎at Colleges

Academic programs are essential for colleges and universities, as they're primary drivers for both enrollment and student outcomes. However, developing and maintaining high-quality academic programs comes with major fiscal challenges. That's precisely why Rize Education proposes a collaborative approach to lower program development costs and accelerate time-to-market. By sharing courses across a consortium of institutions, colleges can integrate specialized curricula into their catalog and create pathways in specialized areas. This model has shown strong results in increasing enrollment and enhancing departmental budgets.

The High Price Tag of Academic Program Development

Developing a new academic program requires significant upfront investment, with average costs ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 according to some estimates. Ongoing expenses for staffing, marketing, facilities and more add to the financial burden.

Compounding this is the substantial time it takes to bring a program from conception to launch, which could take 2-3 years. With such high costs and lengthy timelines, there is still considerable risk of new programs not attracting enough enrollment to break even and cover expenditures. In fact, 55% of new programs at private institutions fail according to “Bad Bets: The High Cost of Failing Programs in Higher Education," a study by Burning Glass.

The combination of high costs and uncertain outcomes creates immense risk in academic program development. Many institutions simply cannot afford to develop high-demand programs like Cybersecurity or Artificial Intelligence on their own.

Rethinking Academic Program Economics

Facing constraints on budgets and resources, many colleges are exploring innovative ways to develop new programs more efficiently. Partnership models that allow for sharing programs, faculty, tools and best practices across institutions are gaining traction. These collaborative approaches can shorten timelines for launching programs, lower upfront investment, and reduce the overall risk profile. Success requires focusing jointly on enrollment growth, student experiences, and continual quality improvement across partners.

"If you don't run your institution like a business, you will lose the privilege to fulfill the mission." - College President

Rize Education aims to solve these fiscal challenges through a consortium model that allows schools to share programs and faculty resources. By blending their existing curriculum with specialized classes from the Rize platform in high-demand fields like Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and more, colleges can offer cutting-edge programs at a fraction of the normal cost.

A Collaborative Approach to Lower Costs & Grow Enrollment

This consortium-collaborative approach significantly lowers the risk profile of starting new academic programs. The upfront investment drops from hundreds of thousands to around $20k-$30k. And the break-even point goes from needing over 20 students to fewer than 2 per program.

Rize also provides enrollment marketing and academic support services to set their partners up for success and accelerate time-to-market of new academic programs. We do so by supplying partners with ready-to-use content marketing kits for each major to help get the word out to prospective students as quickly as possible, with enrollment messaging based on proven best-practices from LCMC partners across the country. Additionally, we actively monitor student performance through regular student success reports, then leverage the data to proactively identify students who need dedicated support. Our instructors and support team collaborate closely with on-campus advisors to ensure that every student thrives.

"It's almost like having an extra department on the side that you team up with."

Key Takeaways

The fiscal obstacles around developing and maintaining academic programs are significant, but solutions exist. Rethinking program economics, taking a portfolio approach, and collaborating creatively with peer institutions through a consortium model can help schools launch relevant, sustainable programs without overextending limited budgets.

Are you considering launching a new program at your institution? Use our new ROI calculator tool to learn more about our pricing model and generate an estimated annual partnership margin from leveraging the Rize model.

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