Last Wednesday Southern Oregon University administration released the first findings of the prioritization process, a year-long institutional review intended to evaluate campus programs and determine whether or not their existence is beneficial to the university’s long term goals.
The full academic support prioritization report can be read here.
The report is part of a process called prioritization, an initiative started by SOU President Mary Cullinan last fall that evaluated every program on campus and divided them into quintiles based on criteria such as the history of department, external and internal demand for program, quality of program inputs, processes and outcomes, size, scope and productivity of the program, revenue and costs, impact, justification and overall importance of the program, and the opportunity analysis for the program. The program’s ranking will help inform future planning decisions.
“This prioritization process gives us a way to look at ourselves holistically,” said Jim Klein, SOU provost, during a recent forum discussing the findings of the report. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to look at ourselves in the mirror from head to toe … the best way to put this in context is that this is data for planning.”
The prioritization process was conducted by two review boards, an academic review board for evaluating the academic departments on campus, and an academic support review board for evaluating programs such as enrollment services, advising, financial office, athletics, and anything else that offers course credits.
The academic support review board released their report last Wednesday, the academic review board will release their report on May 15.
“It’s a powerful tool,” said Dan DeNeui, the SOU psychology professor heading the prioritization process. “We’ve never done something like this, we’ve never had a blueprint.”
Prioritization has made a lot of university staff worried, for the most part due to the quintile rankings. This worry is somewhat justified, DeNeui said, as the lower a program ranks in the quintiles, the greater the chance it will be changed in the future. In many cases, DeNeui explained, that change will mean consolidation or elimination.
On the other hand, DeNeui added, the university needs to keep its long-term goals in mind. Even though the university motor pool and lock shop both ranked in quintile 5, the university still needs cars and keys. Conversely, he said, programs that ranked in quintile 1 are not immune to change.
“The team struggled a lot with the quintiles,” DeNeui said. “You just have to trust that the people on the team have the best interests of the university at heart.”
DeNeui explained the prioritization process will hopefully provide a better alternative to the hasty and ill-planned cuts the university has had to do over the past few years in order to match reductions in state funding.
“There’s no method to our madness,” he said. “We just change haphazardly … the trick is to get out of this cycle. It’s not sustainable to keep raising student tuition by 10 percent every year.”
The continued disinvestment of higher education has left SOU in a tight spot, he said, as state funding levels drop and the university’s funding reserve slowly dwindles. If that reserve drops below five percent of the university’s total budget, automatic cuts take effect and the faculty contract is reopened. The last time that happened was in 2008, DeNeui said, and nobody wants to go there again.
“The target number is five percent, and we’re close to that number,” DeNeui said. “The path we’re on now is unsustainable.”
The data collected during prioritization, DeNeui said, will mean that when the university has to make cuts in the future, they will make cuts that have the minimum impact on students’ education, and on their wallets.
The academic support report listed 160 programs, divided up into quintiles of 32 programs each. While the actual number each program received was not released, the academic support review board included a comment or two about why the program ended up in the quintile it did. Below are some of the programs of particular interest to students that did not do very well:
All athletic programs were placed in quintiles 4 and 5, with the exception of volleyball (quintile 3), outreach (quintile 1), and administration (quintile 2). Interestingly there were few negative comments about each program in particular, leading to questions during a recent prioritization forum as to why they were ranked so low. DeNeui explained that while the review board had little negative to say about the programs, they ranked lower than other programs in terms of relative importance.
The Schneider Children’s Center was placed in quintile 5, along with the community preschool and Schneider Museum of Art.
The Inter-Club Council was ranked in quintile 5, while the Multicultural Resource Center and Outdoor Programs were placed in quintile 4.
The National Student Exchange Program was listed in quintile 5, while the Intensive English Program made it into quintile 4.
On the other hand, there were other programs that fared much better:
The McNair program was ranked in quintile 5, along with the Student Health and Wellness Center’s mental health program, disability services, and civic engagement and sustainability.
The education abroad program was placed in quintile 4, along with Jefferson Public Radio, SOU’s anthropology lab, the SHWC medical clinic, the Queer Resource Center, and a number of programs at the Higher Education Center in Medford.
DeNeui said that there is no timeline for what happens after the reports are released, although the results of both prioritization reports will be discussed at an upcoming university planning board meeting on May 17. For more information, visit the prioritization website.