IBHE judges NIU degrees

By Brian Slupski

NIU faculty and administrators are concerned that a table of measurements created by the Illinois Board of Higher Education to judge a program’s productivity could be a table of death for many programs throughout the state and at NIU.

The table is one of a packet of 12, and lists 287 programs at public universities as having low degree output. The list was compiled by looking at undergraduate, masters and advanced certificate or doctoral programs which had degree levels the IBHE considered low.

Low for a graduate program were 15 degrees for a three-year period (1988-90), 10 for masters and five for advanced certificate or doctoral.

NIU President John La Tourette said judging programs strictly by degree output isn’t necessarily fair or accurate, since a program’s service aspect is completely ignored.

“Degree output is a limited definition of productivity,” La Tourette said. “Many programs have their heaviest enrollment as general education courses or as electives, not as majors.”

After the state measures became available, NIU applied the measures to their own programs to see how many the IBHE might consider as having “low productivity.”

NIU’s list consisted of 26 programs, of which six were new programs and five already were being deleted.

“You have to phase a program out gradually, and it may take as long as four years. You can’t just kick students out of programs,” La Tourette said.

“The six new programs are just getting off the ground and wouldn’t be expected to have high degree output levels,” he said.

“It (11 programs) really suggests that we are making changes to meet student demands,” La Tourette said.

Among the 15 remaining programs are undergraduate programs in Russian, geology, home economics education and physics, master’s programs in philosophy, economics and theatre arts and advanced certificate or doctoral programs in geology and biological sciences.

Of the 15, four (Ph.D. Biological Sciences, M.A. Economics, B.S. Physics and Fine Arts Performance Certificate) had enough students receiving those degrees to meet IBHE levels if the three years examined were shifted from 1988-1990 to 1989-1991.

La Tourette said he doubted if the dollar-saving the IBHE would expect by eliminating some of these programs would be substantial.

He said many faculty participate in additional programs at no added cost to the university, as in the case of a performance certificate.

He said NIU might have some programs to look at, but certainly not 26. NIU reviews 20 percent of their programs every year, and when a program is “no longer viable, we eliminate it.”

He said that of the 287, perhaps 1 or 2 percent of the programs could be eliminated, since most universities are similar to NIU in their review process.

Deputy director of the IBHE Ross Hodel said the table of measures is “merely one part of a priority setting enterprise.”

He said the IBHE is coming up with a game plan for next year’s budget and is looking at five areas—academic programs, research, public service, student financial aid and administrative costs.

He said the table is “just the tip of the iceberg” in the evaluating process and “a great deal of housecleaning needs to be done.”

Hodel said next year will be lean, in terms of budget, and public universities are going to have to “stop doing things which are not essential to their mission and which are not being done well.”

Hodell added that the “programs (with low productivity) may be okay, they may just not be very exciting” and “universities should use their resources for what they do best,” Hodell said.

The public would be very upset if they saw these figures and universities need to consolidate and save their resources, he said.

As an example, in psychology there are eight doctoral programs among the 12 public universities. The IBHE might look at the programs and keep the three or four best while eliminating the others.