Academic Planning

“We can’t be all things to all people.” Most higher education institutions know this, say this. But the conversation often stops there, as the next logical questions can be tricky, even painful, to answer: Who will we serve? Who won’t we serve? What will we keep doing? What will we stop?

Academic planning helps your faculty and leadership answer these questions so they can shape and define the core of each institution’s purpose—learning and scholarship.

What is academic planning?

Academic planning in higher education (also known as educational master planning or academic master planning) is planning that outlines a college’s or university’s overall academic goals and how those goals will be met. Academic planning identifies long-term and short-term objectives to match the mission of an institution with the needs of learners.

Academic planning usually answers four basic questions:

  • Who is the intended student?
  • What programs and services are needed to serve that student adequately and appropriately?
  • What image or “brand” does the institution wish to project to the student?
  • How will the institution know it is successful?

Academic planning can include:

  • Academic program planning (degrees, majors, certificates) for new and existing programs
  • Research priorities
  • Academic policy
  • Assessment
  • Academic structure
  • Institution-wide learning outcomes or competencies
  • Division or department goals

Why do it?

Academic planning allows higher education institutions to:

  • Match their academic offerings with the needs of learners
  • Identify and commit to research priorities
  • Position itself for sustainable success in the future
  • Gain efficiencies in the short term

How to do it?

Depending on the institution’s culture and history with planning, academic planning can take a top-down or bottom-up approach.

In the top-down approach, an institution’s top academic leadership develops a strategy and then works with the academic leadership of individual units/programs to create specific plans for specific disciplines.

In the bottom-up approach, individual unit/program plans are combined with other unit/program plans to create one unified plan for the institution.

Regardless of the approach, academic planning requires:

  • Assembling a planning team or committee to guide the process
  • Seeking broad stakeholder input
  • Reviewing data about academic program performance
  • Scanning the external environment to determine larger trends that will affect the institution’s research and teaching activities
  • Determine goals and write strategies to reach those goals
  • Writing action plans
  • Implementing, measuring, and modifying the plan

Who does it?

The work of academic planning often utilizes committees. Committees vary greatly in size and composition, but it is important that many different stakeholders are included in the process.


Plan Development

  • Faculty
  • Provost
  • Vice President for Academic Affairs
  • Deans
  • Department chairs
  • Students
  • External stakeholders


  • President/Chancellor
  • Governing board

When to do it?

Typically, these plans are created/updated on a three-to-seven-year cycle. While a fixed schedule to review academic plans may be wise to have in place, there is a need for plans to be dynamic and able to respond to short-term environmental changes, including:

  • Accreditation of new programs
  • Re-accreditation of existing offerings
  • Strategic planning
  • Labor market needs

Why integrated?

Integrated planning ensures that decisions made in other large planning initiatives, like the budget, IT planning, and campus planning, align with your academic plan.

Academic planning often has explicit links to other plans and initiatives in the institution, including:

  • Student services
  • Enrollment
  • Career services
  • Libraries
  • Information technology

When viewed as a solely independent process, academic planning can be seen as the purview of only a few campus stakeholders. Integrated planning, with its emphasis on relationships, organizational alignment, and engagement of all stakeholders, helps to alleviate the problem of exclusivity in the planning process. By incorporating faculty, students, staff, alumni, and external partner points of view into the planning process, academic plans can be better aligned with the learning marketplace and responsive to the needs of learners.