Academic programs under IBHE scrutiny

By Eric Krol

Academic programs at all state universities will be under intense scrutiny for the rest of the year.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education is kicking its study of priorities, quality and productivity (PQP) into high gear. The IBHE staff will have its final recommendations on program elimination and consolidation ready by its Nov. 24 meeting.

The goal of the PQP initiative is to eliminate unproductive programs in order to streamline the higher educational system. The process could result in scores of programs being phased out.

The initiative uses comparative statewide standards on areas like number of degrees, program demand, program costs and centrality to evaluate the usefulness of each academic program.

Critics of the plan have expressed fear about the criteria used in the procedure, saying it simply does not take enough variables in command, relying solely on numbers instead.

The IBHE will meet on Thursday at 9 a.m. at Sangamon State University in Springfield as a committee-of-the-whole to debate the PQP subject and look at data. The committee-of-the-whole allows all board members to discuss ideas freely instead of the more rigid regular meeting rules.

All universities must complete recommendations on how to improve productivity to the IBHE staff by Oct. 1. The reports likely will include suggestions for program cuts. The IBHE staff is doing its own study of each university and the two sides will discuss proposals on Oct. 1. The statewide analysis will be presented to the IBHE at its Oct. 6 meeting.

Included in the agenda for this week’s committee-of-the-whole meeting is an analysis of the productivity of academic units.

The report takes the next step in the PQP study, which is identifying specific programs in each academic department for reduction, elimination or consolidation.

According to the IBHE agenda item, it appears as if graduate programs could be on the chopping block. Some NIU programs that could be affected are:

‘ English—The IBHE staff states that doctoral-level study can be strengthened by eliminating weaker programs. Four state universities, including NIU, offer doctoral programs in English.

‘ Foreign Languages—Staff states undergraduate coursework should be maintained, but the number of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs should be reduced. NIU offers both degrees in French, German, Spanish and Russian.

‘ Philosophy—The IBHE staff recommends reducing the number of undergraduate and graduate programs in philosophy through elimination. NIU offers both a bachelor’s and master’s in philosophy.

‘ Visual and Performing Arts—The IBHE staff recommends reducing the number of master’s programs. NIU offers six master’s programs in art, seven in music and three in theatre.

‘ Communications—The IBHE states that although ten campuses offer undergraduate programs in communication, the demand in this field nowhere near equals the number of graduates. Enrollment levels should be reduced, the staff states.

The recommendations include other cuts in sciences, mathematics and education.