Program Prioritization Aligns University for Student Career Success

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Douglas Baker

frompresidentbakerWe’ve recently begun a strategic effort to build a strong foundation for maintaining and improving the quality of academic and administrative programs across NIU by assuring that our programs reflect our institutional mission and strategic goals. The process, commonly referred to as “program prioritization,” already has taken place at many campuses across the United States. In fact, a 2013 Academic Impressions survey found that almost 50 percent of campuses have already undertaken prioritization efforts and 26 percent were planning prioritization in the future.

Program prioritization is a continuous, data-informed process that ensures university resources are targeted and directed at academic and administrative programs that are in highest demand by our students and that are aligned with our mission and with the needs and requirements of employers and the region we serve. The process relates directly to our strategic framework—it allows us to be aggressive in setting priorities and is a means of strengthening the ties that connect our students and faculty with the world.

Program prioritization is about directing human and financial resources to position NIU for excellence and value in terms of academic and administrative programs. Potential outcomes for programs considered by the process include addition or deletion, consolidation or expansion, and reinvestment or reinvention to meet the demands of current and prospective students. The purpose of program prioritization is to strengthen the reputation of our programs, ensure quality and provide a greater focus for the future—the primary goal is strategic deployment of limited resources rather than cost reduction. In the long run, we think it will help us grow the university and advance its mission and impact.

The world we’re living in is increasingly competitive. Dwindling state dollars, coupled with a decline in the number of high school graduates seeking a higher education in this state, mean we simply must be more focused in the way we invest in our people and our programs. Program prioritization is a proven strategy for achieving this result.

Recently, a delegation from NIU was provided the opportunity to attend a conference in order to learn more about the specific processes that colleges and universities have used to prioritize academic and administrative programs. The group included a cross section of the university community, and notably a number of individuals with responsibility for facilitating the program prioritization process at NIU. Among these were: Lisa Freeman, executive vice president and provost and members of the Provost Office; Brett Coryell, vice president for Information Technology; William Pitney, executive secretary of the University Council; Marc Falkoff, associate professor of law and chair of the Academic Planning Council; Ibrahim M. Abdel-Motaleb, professor and chair of Electrical Engineering and chair, Resource Space and Budget Committee; and Andy Small, past president of the NIU Operating Staff Council and chair of the State Universities Civil Service Advisory Committee to the Merit Board. Going forward, the conference attendees will act as the coordinating team for program prioritization at NIU. As such, they will work with members of the University community to develop and implement a transparent program prioritization process. To this end, the coordinating team will facilitate the definition and inventory of academic and administrative programs, the establishment of review criteria and metrics, the gathering and sharing of relevant program data, and the nomination of members for the two task forces that will be asked to work with academic and administrative units to perform a thorough, fair and painstaking analysis of our programs.

We are committed to openness, transparency and engagement of NIU faculty and staff throughout the process. Ongoing communication will be critical due to the long and complex nature of program prioritization. Accordingly, we will encourage dialogue and provide updates about the prioritization process through a number of venues. For example, we plan to establish a website, provide regular email updates and hold meetings in the colleges, administrative units, and relevant committees and councils. In addition, we will invite faculty, staff and administrators from universities that have implemented program prioritization to share their stories with our campus.  In all of our communications, we will actively solicit feedback across the university.

Program prioritization underscores NIU’s commitment to aligning available resources with institutional priorities so that we can deliver most effectively on our cornerstone objective of student career success. Development and implementation of a transparent, inclusive and data-informed process for prioritizing academic and administrative programs will be challenging. However, in the end, program prioritization will enable NIU to realize its potential by investing in programs that enhance student success, advance the university’s reputation and strengthen the connections between our campus, our region and the global community.

Forward together,

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