Academic Planning

From adding a new major to changing degree requirements, decisions made regarding learning, teaching, and research reverberate throughout the college or university. Academic planning ensures these decisions work towards your college or university’s envisioned future.

Why do it? Why integrated? Who does it?
When is it done? How is it done? Learn how.

What is academic planning?

Academic planning glossary 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?

At some institutions, these decisions are documented in an academic plan. Even if an institution doesn’t have a formal academic plan, academic planning takes place when working on:

  • Academic program planning glossary (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 academic planning?

Academic planning allows a higher education institution to:

  • Match its 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

Why is integrated planning important for academic planning?

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.

Who does academic planning?

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 is academic planning done?

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:

How is academic planning done?

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
  • Determining goals and writing strategies to reach those goals
  • Writing action plans
  • Implementing, measuring, and modifying the plan

Learn how.

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