Close this search box.

Data-Informed Academic Portfolio Review in Higher Ed

Ensure your academic programs remain relevant for a new era using data that drives a comprehensive academic portfolio review.

College and university leaders know it’s important to offer the right degrees and certificates. A strong set of academic offerings can stabilize enrollment, maximize resource allocation, and differentiate institutions from their peers. Moreover, appealing to evolving student and workforce needs is imperative to stay competitive and promote enrollment growth. But simply adding new programs to the list or conducting sporadic program reviews might not be enough. Instead, institutions should regularly conduct a comprehensive and data-informed academic portfolio review. 

Ensuring programs include the skills, competencies, and perspectives that tomorrow’s students and employers expect is critical to institutional success. But assessing current programs and identifying new ones takes time and resources that institutions don’t always have.  

To build a continuous, data-informed approach to program improvement and development, each institution must define its own markers of program success. They must also regularly collect and evaluate data to identify program losses and keep pace with in-demand degrees. Here are some considerations to get started.

Understand the Difference Between Academic Portfolio Review and Program Reviews

To begin, a portfolio review evaluates the entire breadth of academic offerings (including degree programs), while a program review examines a specific program or credential.

Many institutions already follow an established program review cycle, which often involves individual academic departments embarking on intensive self-studies. This process typically involves external reviewers and can provide rich data about the strengths and challenges of individual programs.

However, program reviews generally consider programs in isolation on a staggered schedule, often with three to 10 years elapsing in between. These long cycles don’t provide real-time, institution-wide insight that leaders need to make strategic decisions about academic programming. For this reason, an additional layer of review is necessary. The academic portfolio review process doesn’t replace program review. Instead, it’s a complementary effort that provides a different level of insight.

See how your institution’s offerings compare to the nation’s Top 10 Degrees on the Rise in 2022

Build an Ongoing Process for Academic Portfolio Review

Some think of an academic portfolio review as a reactive process undertaken only when a college or university faces an urgent need for immediate change. In reality, however, portfolio reviews are better completed as part of proactive, long-term strategic planning. There are multiple ways to set up an ongoing portfolio review process, but it should include these three aspects:

  • Tracking: Have a system in place for monitoring program data and enrollment over time.  
  • Forecasting: Analysis of current job opportunities and labor market predictions for specific degree and certificate tracks.
  • Evaluation: Ability to assess risk for continued investment in specific academic programs.
Get a deeper understanding of what motivates today’s prospective students. Read Hanover’s 2022 National Prospective Student Survey.

Research Tools and Methodologies for Effective Academic Program Decisions

Historically, colleges and universities could rely on past enrollment data and trends to determine future success. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the past is a much less reliable indicator of what’s to come.

In the face of this change, it’s not enough to use backward-looking data to identify emerging or future trends. Instead, it’s even more important now for institutions to use other indicators to inform their programming decisions. To do so, they should use a mixed methodology of both primary and secondary research.

For a more complete picture of an institution’s academic portfolio, include data from a variety of primary sources, including students, employers, faculty, administrators, and alumni. Here is a snapshot of some tools to assess various aspects of the portfolio review process. 

Student demand: 

  • Key trend assessment 
  • Data analysis of student demand indicators 
  • Enrollment trends analysis 
  • Expert interviews 
  • Current and prospective student surveys  

Labor market trends: 

  • Key trend assessment 
  • Labor market trends analysis 
  • Graduate outcomes analysis 
  • Job postings and trends analysis 
  • Interviews with potential employers 
  • Alumni surveys 
  • Employer surveys 

Competitor saturation: 

  • Key trend assessment 
  • Data analysis 
  • Interviews with administrators and faculty
  • Brand perception survey 

Implementation requirements: 

Learn how to use student-centered data to drive forward-looking enrollment decisions. Read our blog on 4 Critical Strategies for Matching Academic Programs to Student Demand.

Encourage a Campus Culture that Applies Data to Academic Program Development 

As higher education forges ahead in a new era, academic leaders play a pivotal role in helping their institutions adopt an evidence-based approach to program development and improvement.

Sometimes faculty members, partner organizations, or even community members encourage developing or revising programs based on personal preferences or perceived student interest. But without sufficient evidence of potential success, the institution opens itself to risk that it might not be prepared to absorb. Encourage other stakeholders in the institution to embrace the following best practices when it comes to assessing programs: 

  1. Get the data. A multi-pronged view of data creates an accurate and comprehensive academic portfolio review. A single data point, such as previous enrollment, is not a sufficient indicator.
  2. Be consistent. Academic portfolio review is an ongoing, cyclical process that’s separate from individual program reviews.
  3. Gather feedback. By seeking direct input from students and industry experts, institutions can capture the priorities, needs, and perceptions of many stakeholders. In turn, these groups can provide indications of where things are going over the next three to five years.
  4. Consider all factors. When it comes to invigorating enrollment, reexamining how established programs are delivered (e.g., format, scheduling, credential type, cost) can be just as important as curriculum — and sometimes even more so.


For large, complex organizations, it can be challenging to move fast enough to remain at the forefront of student and workforce needs. Setting up a continuous, data-informed academic portfolio review process is key to ensuring continued institutional success. Taking the time to build a solid portfolio review engine today will propel your college or university forward for many miles ahead.

Learn how to strengthen your program offerings in six steps. Download the Step-by-Step Guide to A Comprehensive Academic Portfolio Review

Author Information

Senior Research Advisor, Higher Education
View All Author Information
Education: Ph.D. Philosophy of Religion, Claremont Graduate University; M.T.S., Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology; B.S. Philosophy and Political Science, Southern Nazarene University
Areas of Expertise: Academic Development, Institutional Strategy, International Higher Education, and Liberal Arts Education

Michael joined Hanover Research as a market research analyst after many years in the academy, most recently as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zurich. Michael has experience teaching courses at community colleges, private liberal arts colleges, and public institutions, both in the US and internationally. He combines his passion for higher education with a comprehensive understanding of the research tools available to help colleges and universities succeed, and his experiences on the academic side of the industry position him well for communicating with and between faculty and administration.

“I believe in higher education, and I do the work that we do to help institutions succeed in challenging times. My goal is to help institutions continue to be mission driven and education focused in a market that demands measurable outcomes and return on investment.”
Academic portfolio review is a process to evaluate your college or university is offering the right academic programs that benefit students, employers and the institution

Related Content

Related Tags

Related Research & Insights

Become a client

Access the best custom research to help hit your organization’s goals. Request your custom consult below and a member of our team will be in touch.

Have questions? Please visit our contact page.

Let us come to you!

Receive industry insights directly in your inbox

Our newsletters are packed with helpful tips, industry guides, best practices, case studies, and more. Enter your email address below to opt in: