Prioritizing campus voices — Program prioritization should involve student input now more than ever

Over the past several years, the term program prioritization has been thrown around all over campus. Whether it be from students, faculty, staff or administrators, it is a hot topic of discussion among many.

It is a complex and detailed program — one that many are involved in, but many are confused by.

But, what does the term program prioritization really mean, and better yet, what does it mean for students?

Program prioritization is a process through which academic institutions assess and prioritize programs, departments and services. This would ensure the university is making the best use of its resources.

It began in 2013 as an Idaho State Board of Education (SBOE) mandated program, requiring UI to put together a plan that will prioritize what programs do and reallocate the funding accordingly.

However, with big plans and even bigger changes comes uncertainty among UI employees, and even some debate.

As observed in an open forum held last September, many faculty members expressed concern about the ranking process of the program. The main area of concern stems from the methodology behind the ranking — combining qualitative and quantitative data. One of the other large concerns remains the reliability of the evaluators of these programs.

Evaluators of department rankings came from individuals from any academic program, in UI’s attempt to be inclusive. Simply put, there was no specific way to ensure evaluators of the programs actually understood the overall process.

What it all boils down to is the conflict of what is most important — expertise or inclusivity. Should the university focus on ensuring the nit-picky details of the program are smoothed out and that everything runs as it should, or should it ensure inclusivity toward programs and their evaluators? It is important we — in a university-wide effort — find a middle ground between the two before moving forward with the process.

Program prioritization poses major problems for current and future students, not just faculty and staff.

The biggest problem is the unknown — the uncertainty that comes with a general lack of confidence in the current process.

The uncertainty of what this might do to the departments of which they are a part of could make many students, especially younger undergraduates, uneasy about the future of their program.

If something of such magnitude is being considered that will affect campus and the people within it, it is critical administration ensures the voice of the student body is heard. This means ensuring these voices come from younger students who are likely to be affected the most — incoming and current freshman.

It can be worrisome for students, of all ages, to pick a program and invest their complete confidence in the education they will receive. It can be difficult for faculty and staff to see their individual programs weighed against others. It can be arduous for administrators to stamp the final seal of approval at the end of the day. But, when everyone has a voice in the discussion, we can ultimately find a solution that everyone has the chance to understand.

—SC


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