IBHE guarantees intense evaluation of new areas

By Jerry Lawrence

The second phase of the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity initiative began Tuesday with IBHE Chairman Arthur Quern saying the IBHE will evaluate four new areas as stringently as the board evaluated academic programs.

Under PQP, the IBHE recommended the elimination of 190 academic programs state-wide including 15 graduate programs at NIU.

The four areas now under the IBHE’s watchful eye are recent trends in higher education expenditures, university research and public service, off-campus class offerings and intercollegiate athletics.

Quern said he believed future debate will most likely regard the IBHE’s evaluation of departmental research because of a lack of data to base the evaluation on.

“The tougher part is in the academic instruction area. We talked about having at least 25 reference points because you could come at it from a lot of directions. There is a lot of experience out there on how to evaluate these things,” Quern said.

“We don’t think we have as many choices for reference points in some of these other areas, but that isn’t going to change the level of intensity with which we approach it,” Quern said.

Quern said the IBHE will be more limited when investigating research. “I think that’s where the debate will be, whether or not we have the criteria.”

NIU President John La Tourette expressed concern about the criteria the IBHE cited in its report evaluating off-campus programs.

The off-campus program report refers to the number of courses offered by universities and the number of students taking them, as well as the number of community college districts served by the off-campus programs.

La Tourette said the numerical data should not be the only means of judging off-campus programs. He said the IBHE should look more to the changing qualities of students that leads many of them to prefer off-campus course offerings.

“I would suggest that there are a lot of people out there who would like to have access to higher education, but do not have the financial or time wherewithal to do that,” La Tourette said.

La Tourette gave examples from NIU, which is the largest provider of off-campus programs in the state. He said a large number of NIU’s off-campus students take those classes out of necessity, and there is a large demand for such programs.

The discussion of the report on intercollegiate athletics at state universities was limited to the IBHE’s concern about additional forms of state funding for athletic programs.

The report states those additional sources of state funds are tuition waivers, student fees reimbursed under state financial aid programs and direct state appropriations.

During the meeting, Quern again emphasized that PQP should not be viewed as a budget exercise.

“I would say again that it is extremely important in my judgement to remember that PQP is not a budget exercise, and I have said that time and again and I think I still have trouble convincing everybody that I mean it,” Quern said.