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Guide to Starting an Academic Program in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

Section 2 - Developing a Proposal for a New Program

Preparing the Letter of Intent

A formal letter of intent to establish a new program should be prepared according to the procedures established at your institution. A letter of intent is the first formal document about the new program. It usually precedes the submission of a formal proposal to the state or board of trustees. This letter is an opportunity to provide the vision and framework for the program. Understand the protocol in your university and in your state. For a state or land-grant institution, the letter usually is from the college president to the provost for the state-wide university system; however, this process may be handled differently at a private institution. The letter of intent may be prepared for the board of trustees or, in the case of private colleges or universities, another applicable high-level administrative office. Be sensitive to the processes and politics at your institution and in your state.

There are different ways to think about the impetus for a new program. Was it something that the administrators, president, provost, vice president for academic affairs, and/or dean initiated and now have to "sell" to the faculty? Or was it something that the faculty, and perhaps even some students or alumni of the institution, wanted and who now have to "sell" to the central administration? This information, if not known, is important to ascertain because it will influence your strategies for getting buy-in for the new program as well as provide awareness of available windows of opportunity to secure institutional financial support.

The letter of intent typically contains:

Program Identity

  • Proposed title of the department or program.
  • Proposed degree, including degree designator.
  • Anticipated beginning of the program (i.e., student enrollment). Include the timeline and the date when fiscal and other resources would be needed (e.g., start-up resources to recruit and hire faculty).
  • Description of how the academic and clinical education components of the program are related to the mission and core values of the institution. This is a required element for accreditation by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) and particularly important in private and/or faith-based institutions.
  • A brief description of academic content, structure, and number of credits for the degree program. A statement of need for the program, a projection of annual operating costs, and the number of projected students also may be required.

Planning Factors

  • Present a logical framework for your vision of the program within the context of your institution's priorities, expected growth/development, and strategic or operational plan.
  • Explain how the proposed program is consistent with recommendations or comments from institutional accreditation reviews, enrollment plans, or other ongoing planning processes.
  • Identify existing or projected programs of related disciplines on the campus, and indicate how the new program will impact these programs.
  • Identify the potential impact on the other programs, including the use of required internships, practica, and other external entities that may be using the same clinical facilities.
  • Identify similar programs at public and private institutions of higher education in the region, especially if there are similar programs that may be perceived as competitors.

Need and Demand

  • Report results of the feasibility (see Section 1, Getting Started With a Feasibility Study) study to document the need for the program.
  • Identify the need for the proposed program within the institution and also within other institutions in the region and/or system in terms of the economy and/or educational needs of the region, state, and nation.
  • Report the statistics from the national and state Departments of Labor to show projections of need for graduates in the professions for the foreseeable future (see Section 1, Getting Started With a Feasibility Study).
  • Include letters of support from potential employers to justify the need for program graduates. If there is to be a special focus of the program, show how the program will close gaps or weaknesses in existing training programs.
  • Estimate the projected full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment for the proposed program with estimates of how the proposed program will affect existing campus enrollment. For example, is it expected that the proposed program will result in increased enrollment or a redistribution of currently enrolled students? To support an increase in enrollment, indicate whether existing programs in the region are able to meet enrollment demands.

Fiscal Factors

Include a statement of projected costs for the first 3-5 years of the program, indicating how the program and costs will be phased in over time. Be as realistic as possible. If your projected costs are too high, the project may be rejected because of the high student-to-cost ratio. On the other hand, if you do not ask for enough financial support, you may have a difficult time requesting additional funds for faculty and unanticipated expenses later. As you develop the budget, check with other programs of comparable size in the area to determine the cost for personnel, including clinic and secretarial staff and other expenses for the program such as supplies, telephone, equipment, copying, and accreditation fees.

  • Indicate the total internal funding requirements for the program, including operational and personnel costs. Operational costs should include the need for equipment and supplies as well as costs for capital expenses. Personnel costs should include cost for benefits which could be as high as 40% of the salary.
  • Identify possible existing resources on campus that could be shared with the new department such as student computers, software, or speech science equipment.
  • Indicate possible sources of external funding, particularly for start-up costs and support for students. Locate possible grants and potential contracts to reduce the dependence on internal funds for the initial program costs.
  • Identify the return on investment for the proposed program over at least a 5-year (or other suitable) period. Include the expected tuition and fees collected by the institution in relation to the total costs for the program.

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