Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories related to Focus for the Future.
As higher education in Idaho continues to experience budget shortfalls, a look at all of the programs offered by each university will help institutions in re-slicing their “financial pies,” according to Interim Provost Katherine Aiken.
“I don’t think the pie is getting bigger so we need to rethink about how we cut that pie into pieces,” Aiken said.
The first phase of Focus for the Future — the University of Idaho’s version of the program prioritization mandate from the Idaho State Board of Education for all four-year Idaho higher education institutions — ended Monday as all department heads submitted reviews of their units to the appropriate UI vice presidents.
The university began the review process of all academic and non-academic programs in May when the SBOE asked higher education institutions to review all programs. The process will conclude next fall when the institutions will present their findings to the state board. It’s likely the data collected from the program evaluation will be considered when determining the budget for the 2015-2016 academic year, Aiken said.
The SBOE allowed each institution to define the criteria by which it will rate its programs. Aiken and Interim President Don Burnett worked together to determine the best method for evaluation and settled on a set of criteria that had been used in a previous program prioritization in 2008.
“This is not something new,” Aiken said. “The university does this on its own. The mandate from the state board just requires a university wide evaluation and we will have to give a report next fall once we have collected the data.”
The nine criteria established by Aiken and Burnett are centrality, external demand, internal demand, quality, size and scope, productivity, cost effectiveness, impact and synergies. Each criterion is assigned a relative weighting on a scale of one to five, though none are weighted less than three. Although the criteria to determine the program rankings was up to the discretion of university administrators, the state board is requiring the report from each institution to place all programs in one of five categories based on the programs overall value to the university.
The evaluations due Monday required each unit lead to complete the initial review process and unit report. Program leads provided information based on data from Institutional Research and Assessment for academic programs and appropriate relative data for non-academic programs. Phase one also included a self-review by each unit lead for their unit and sub-units.
SBOE member Richard Westerberg said the board introduced the program prioritization process to help the universities in Idaho evaluate the value of the programs they offer.
“It’s named program prioritization but what it really is is program review, and the notion from the board perspective is that all programs should be reviewed on a reoccurring basis to be sure they’re still meeting the needs of students and still filling an educational role they did when they were instituted,” Westerberg said. “If you do that for academic programs you probably ought to do it for non-academic programs like athletics and the bookstore.”
Although Westerberg and Aiken agreed ranking programs on a scale of values may seem intimidating for some programs during a time of financial crisis in higher education, they said the goal is not to establish what is and is not worthy of attention from the university. Instead, Westerberg said the SBOE hopes each institution will use the information collected to determine areas where they are excelling and areas that need to be assessed and reevaluated.
“We want to be sure that programs that are out there are not only efficient but that they’re filling a need for students,” Westerberg said. “The board has always been concerned about the relevance of the instruction and also the cost because we’re sensitive to students and the cost of education. Our goal is to get as many students as possible with some kind of degree or post secondary certificate.”
Aiken said the university’s report on program prioritization to the state board will include what the university is doing with any money saved or efficiencies created from the prioritization.
“So our reporting does involve … programs that we’re planning to enrich, programs that we’re planning to discontinue, programs that we’re planning to reorganize, programs that we’re putting on probation,” Aiken said. “I certainly think there will be some (programs that we discontinue).”
Aiken said the university recognizes that state funding has decreased $26 million since 2008 and with a nearly 5 percent decline in enrollment, the university is sure to face additional budget shortfalls in the coming years. But, she said, the ranking system might shed light on programs the university needs to better invest its time in rather than discontinue.
“Maybe you’re in the bottom and that means we better invest in you because you’re something that we really need but you’re showing up in the bottom,” Aiken said. “That means we need to allocate some more money to you. The same way I think if you’re at the very top it may be that we say ‘Well this program obviously has the resources it needs, we’re not going to do anything with it.’ There are some places that we will do nothing. I would suspect the majority of programs will see no change.”
The second phase of the process will begin later this month with a university-wide prioritization.
“I don’t think that the board necessarily is going to do anything with this information as much as we expect the institutions will use the information to kind of inform what they do,” Westerberg said. “Clearly in time, we’ll know what they do with the information but I think it’s more valuable for the institutions.”
Kaitlyn Krasselt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org