Program Prioritization is a process aimed are reorienting resources within the university towards sectors that are more aligned with the mission of the university and at the same time forcing those units that are less central or effective to reinvent themselves or face reductions of elimination.
The process has come to the University of Montana at a time of budget reductions and calls for more strategic reductions in staff and faculty. The Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian has encourage UM and other units on campus to employ some process to objectively gauge the effectiveness of different programs and use that gauge to make cuts or investments.
In December of 2016, Paul Haber, president of UFA, put out a statement responding to the program prioritization effort saying:
“My feeling is that rather than jump to prioritization, which seemingly would inevitably include more cuts, a better response to our current enrollment challenge is to grow and retain our way out of it. We have reason to believe that the commissioner and the Regents will support us in this effort. This will require meaningful efforts on all our parts. We should not nor can not simply say no to prioritization or we will be guilty of the obstructionism that some have accused the faculty. Some might say that it is not faculty’s job to come up with a better idea than prioritization but I think we undermine ourselves and our institution if we take that position.”
This idea of program prioritization finds much of its intellectual underpinnings in the work of former academic official and consultant Robert Dickeson. Higher Education Strategy Associates describes Dickeson’s approach this way: “Stripped to essentials, Dickeson advocates distributing resources according to how strong each program is, with “strength” determined by a series of indicators that measure how a program performs in a number of different dimensions. In a nutshell: get comparable data on all programs, score the results, aggregate the scores, and make decisions accordingly. Top ones get more resources; bottom ones face cuts.”
In October, the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education hosted a one-day session where the Commissioner Clay Christian made it clear he wants the university system to undertake. In the wake of the meeting the UFA issued a statement and shared the documents with members.
“It does seem clear to us that the UM campus will be engaged in some type of prioritization exercise in the coming months—the metrics and process are still to be determined (or at least revealed) and we will share information with you as quickly as we learn it, verify it, and are able to provide what we hope to be useful analysis for your consideration. In addition, it is our intention to work collaboratively with Faculty Senate to be involved in the decision-making process.”
You can find out more by reading Dickeson’s book. We are exploring how this model has been incorporated in different places and what alternative models different universities have implemented. We will have more information on these efforts soon.