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How to Start a College

Six Methods:Determining the Purpose of the CollegeGetting Advice and FundingPreparing a Business PlanSorting Out the Regulatory and Founding RequirementsMarketing the CollegeGetting Accreditation

If you have an educational philosophy you feel strongly about sharing with students, you may feel motivated enough to start your own college based on its inherent values. As with any business, it's challenging to get started, but it's made even more so by the fact that you'll need to meet many regulatory requirements to ensure that you are providing the appropriate educational experience for students attending. You'll also need to decide whether you want a physical or a virtual location, the latter being a cheaper option thanks to fewer overheads but requiring good technical knowledge. Funding will be your biggest hurdle and one you must consider from the outset. If you're still keen, here is some guidance to help you determine whether this is the right thing for you to pursue.

Note: This article applies to the United States. While some of the generalizations apply elsewhere, it is recommended that you do further research that matches your own jurisdiction's requirements.

Method 1
Determining the Purpose of the College

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    Determine your niche and create a mission statement. Reflect on your reasons for starting the college. What is missing from the current educational institutions in your area (or even worldwide) that you feel you can add or improve upon? What do you have to offer in your educational philosophy, curricular focus and teaching methodologies?
    • Examine existing colleges which are like the one you'd like to start. What do they offer now that you also want to offer? In what ways would you tailor your offerings to outsell those of existing colleges? Fee-paying students and their sponsors will be wanting to understand fully what sets your curriculum apart from others.
    • Be careful if you're seeking to undercut other colleges. This may seem like a reasonable idea until you realize just how expensive it can be to provide education. Unless you're flush with funds, steer clear of stating this as a prime reason for starting a college.
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    Set out solid reasons for your college. Your mission statement should include your reasons for starting the college, the educational approach and curriculum and your goals.
    • Pass your mission statement reasons around friends and family to gauge their thoughts and ideas. Ask them if you have made your mission clear enough for them. Ask them to tell you if it stands out as a college they'd like to go to, or send their children to. Use their feedback to ensure both clarity of mission and to put together your own verbal pitch to explain the college to people you want to get advice from and to promote the college to potential funders.
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    Decide whether your college will have real premises or will be virtual only. You can offer virtual courses from real premises as well if you wish to combine both options. Bear in mind the following:
    • Real premises can be expensive to operate, especially when you're starting up. The premises need to be able to fit the amount of students you think will attend courses, and all safety, health, insurance and other regulatory issues must be fully covered off. The location is also important––students prefer safe areas that they can walk and cycle to and from, which can often mean finding a location in a more expensive area. Do lots of research before deciding on a suitable location.
    • Virtual courses only is a good option when you're just starting up because the overheads are lower. That said, you will need good technical expertise (or a good IT team), excellent security and privacy protocols, plenty of server space and contacts for the students 24/7 to resolve access and similar problems. Design of courses will require knowledge of what works and what doesn't work and you won't have much leeway for error in an age where people expect technology to work properly and seamlessly from the outset.

Method 2
Getting Advice and Funding

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    Seek advice from professionals with experience in starting a college. Find experts that can help in business, finance and education. Meet with founders of other colleges for specific guidance and suggestions on how to handle roadblocks that you will come across.
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    Seek out funding options to determine if you will be able to proceed with the process. If you will be setting up a non-profit college, look for foundations or individuals that would be interested in donating to support a college. Make presentations to encourage community support.
    • Research grant options for starting your college. These will vary depending on your region and jurisdiction, so do a wide search to try to capture as many options as possible. Naturally, look for people who are likely to find your educational philosophy aligning with their own thinking about the purpose of education.
    • Check with local and state governmental representatives to see if there is an interest in supporting a new college due to economic and cultural benefits to the region.
    • Look into options such as grants and loans if you will be operating as a for-profit institution.

Method 3
Preparing a Business Plan

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    Write a business plan. Your business plan should include details about your philosophy, operational plans, budget, funding and your educational plans.

Method 4
Sorting Out the Regulatory and Founding Requirements

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    Research your state's educational institution requirements. Start with your state Department of Education. You will most likely be required to apply for a license to operate. You may be approved with a provisional license to get your college started and then be required to submit additional information for a final or ongoing approval. Once you have researched the license requirements for your state, you will be able to determine at what point you should submit the application for approval to operate a college.
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    Form your founding committees. You can form a founding committee consisting of fellow participants and supporters for advice and information. This committee should consist of people with a variety of expertise in areas such as law, education and business.
    • You will need to recruit a formal board of trustees if you will be operating as a non-profit organization.
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    Incorporate and file for non-profit status. You will file your business entity status with your state, usually through the Secretary of the State.
    • You can make a non-profit 501(c)(3) status election through the IRS by going to
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    Finalize your funding options.
    • Secure your loans, grants or donations.
    • Hold fundraising events to gather additional support.
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    Develop your infrastructure. Designing your policies and procedures will be guided, in large part, by the regulations of your state and the department that oversees the formation of colleges and institutions of higher learning. This is why the earlier research step was so important.
    • Your infrastructure includes operational, educational, curricular, business, legal, hiring, training, admissions and enrollment procedures.
    • Determine your location. Will your college be virtual, have a physical location or both?
    • Decide on the degrees and classes that will be offered. Some of this will have been determined by your state requirements. Develop a curriculum for your college based on the requirements of your state for granting degrees.
    • Begin networking with and interviewing potential faculty and hiring key staff members. You will be able to hire faculty based on your enrollment, but you will need to have a pool of qualified teachers to draw from.

Method 5
Marketing the College

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    Market your college. Marketing is essential to recruit your students. Word-of-mouth is an important starting form of marketing, so tell your friends to tell their friends and so on. Have excellent brochures and websites in place to help spread the word quickly and easily.
    • Start a website to network, share your educational philosophy and inform students about your programs. Also make use of social network sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, for broader reach.
    • Offer admissions and financial assistance information. You might wish to offer a scholarship to entice people to apply. Be sure that such an offer fits within your budget.
    • Hold information sessions and events to draw interest.
    • Advertise online and offline through newspapers, magazines, posts, blogs and flyers. The scope of your advertising is dependent on your budget.

Method 6
Getting Accreditation

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    Apply for accreditation. Accreditation is an essential step for colleges because it will set your institution apart from the so-called "diploma mills" that do not have appropriate educational programs in place and do not meet educational requirements for issuing diplomas or degrees.
    • You can apply for accreditation once you have students and have begun teaching your courses. Accreditation is a process in which your institution is reviewed by a peer review group to determine the quality of the program you offer.
    • The U.S. Department of Education has a list of regionally and nationally recognized accrediting agencies for higher education online.


  • Running an educational institution is a competitive business. Many run on a very tight budget. The iffier the budget, the more prone your institution is to failing, as any whiff of financial troubles can cause students not to enroll or to un-enroll.
  • This article presents a very basic guidance to the process of starting a college. It is important to speak with legal and financial advisers to determine the suitability of pursuing opening a college given your mission and funding, the current climate and other challenges you may face. This is not an easy endeavor and it will require a lot of energy, perseverance and determination to succeed.

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