Consultant: Funding climate demands fresh look at academic priorities

At board retreat, regents say they want to ensure resources align with strategic direction

Unprecedented challenges, most notably funding declines, facing higher education in Colorado and beyond make it necessary for institutions to set academic priorities and identify internal resources to meet them, the University of Colorado Board of Regents heard last week.

Robert Dickeson, president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado and co-founder of the Lumina Foundation for Education, conducted a July 18 workshop on academic priority setting at the board’s retreat at President Bruce Benson’s ranch near Silverthorne. Dickeson is author of “Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services.”

He walked the board through an extensive process for program prioritization, which includes administrative programs. It is based on the premise that there will not be new money, so reallocation of resources is necessary, though the process is complicated and requires buy-in throughout the organization. He said institutions he works with typically have significant budgetary or accreditation issues, which is not the case at CU.

“This is a great university and you have so many great things going on, but you want to get better,” Dickeson said. “Reallocation is necessary – it’s the most likely source of funds.

“You want to conduct a process that helps you achieve your strategic directions. That’s going to take resources and you need to identify those resources.”

The process differs from the current program review process in the criteria that is used and the potential for reallocation of resources. Programs also must be reviewed all at the same time rather than in staggered fashion, he said.

“We have to look at all programs simultaneously because we all feed at the budget trough simultaneously,” Dickeson said.

After the presentation, the regents had an extensive discussion with the president and chancellors about next steps. The board asked university leadership to begin discussions on the campuses about how CU would go about a thorough review of academic programs to ensure resources are aligned with priorities and strategic directions. Leadership will discuss the issue on campuses and report back to the board in September.

Benson said it is critical that the process not be a top-down one.

“You’ve got to work it from the campuses working up, not from the board and administration down,” he said.

CU Denver Chancellor Don Elliman said the exercise would also be an opportunity to take a broader look at issues affecting academics.

“If we’re going to review all the programs, we should also review policies,” Elliman said. “We need to ask academic leadership and faculty how to go about it all. There’s a sense we’re not as good at setting our academic priorities as we should be, so the question is, how do we go about it?”

CU Anschutz Medical Campus Executive Vice Chancellor Lilly Marks said the campus’s unique mix of professional programs may not fit with a proscribed effort.

“Our priority is interprofessional education, not new programs,” she said. “Our programs have a different delivery method.”

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