Regents hear latest on program prioritization efforts

CU Denver presents first findings at board meeting; CU-Boulder, UCCS update progress

Leaders at the University of Colorado Denver last month were the latest to present findings of program prioritization to the CU Board of Regents, which also heard updates on the process from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Regents heard the presentations at their Nov. 19-20 meeting at UCCS.

While the CU Denver presentation included a scoring chart that plots academic programs on a graph, Provost Roderick Nairn stressed that this first attempt at an assessment process as requested by the regents underscored the need for better data systems to inform future studies.

“One of the most important things we got from this is, not everything that’s important could you make a quantitative judgment about,” Nairn said. Or, as Chancellor Jerry Wartgow later put it, “Not all things that count can be counted – and not all things that can be counted count.”

Implemented by a committee that included faculty members, the scoring criteria considered the cost of delivering education; student demand, success and diversity; and scholarship and service by faculty. Unit heads also were asked for quantitative input, provided in short, written responses to several questions.

The higher scoring end of the spectrum was led by business management, psychology and communication; at the lower end, bioengineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, undergraduate licensure in the School of Education and Human Development, and health and behavioral sciences.

Nairn cautioned that the bioengineering program was brand new in FY 2013, so it could not yet be credited with undergraduate students, which factored in the scoring. At the high end, the management program in the Business School was credited with all MBAs, even though those are shared with other segments of the business school. “So we have to be careful about some of the extremes,” he said.

Those three lower-scoring programs were highlighted as “emerging,” as were three others. Another three were flagged as requiring further study, including physics.

“Physics generates a large number of credit hours, and it’s a critical program for a lot of engineering and science students, but it has a small faculty. We’re quite concerned about it,” Nairn said. So even though it ranked ninth among the 43 programs, it may require greater investment, specifically adding more faculty.

Now serving in an interim role since Chancellor Don Elliman became full-time chancellor at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Wartgow noted he wasn’t at CU Denver during the process. “But I have had a chance to discuss and review this extensively,” he said. “It’s one of the most thorough projects I’ve encountered in terms of involving faculty at all levels. We will use this as one more tool in the toolbox to improve things.”

That will include incorporating the findings into future budget planning, while also sharing the data with deans, enhancing faculty data this year and exploring improved systems for gathering and sharing of faculty information.

In his update to the regents, CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano said program prioritization at the campus has been “extremely helpful,” and mentioned related accomplishments over the course of the months since first presenting findings to the regents last spring.

A comparative literature degree, for instance, which ranked at the bottom in several categories, is being discontinued. The ATLAS program did not rank high, but is undergoing changes to grow more efficient. He also pointed to a “major redesign” of the environmental design program, which will continue but with a reduced budget and reduced space, enabling growth for another academic unit requiring expansion. “So we’ll preserve that degree program, but on a smaller scale,” he said.

In her presentation, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said program prioritization is influencing reorganizations of administrative and academic units across the campus, including “major consolidation” at the College of Education. “The lowest ranked program, the distributed studies (bachelor’s) degree, has the most potential for growth,” she said. “But it requires reorganization.”