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Dec. 8, 2014

Program prioritization recommends cuts, consolidation and expansion

By Melanie Morris

Cleveland State University recently released a program prioritization report that ranks all academic programs. The purpose of the report is to efficiently allocate limited resources that the university receives from tuition revenue and state funding.

The programs are given a ranking from a score of one to three — programs that have received a score of 1 are being considered for investment of additional resources in infrastructure and faculty. Programs that have received a score of 2 will be maintained at their present level and programs that have received a score of 3 will either be suspended or shut down.

Each program was reviewed carefully to determine enrollment trends, sufficiency of faculty and relevance, among other qualities, according to Provost Deirdre Mageean.

Mageean and her team worked with the deans and department chairs of every college to produce the report in the form of a table that represents where each program stands based on their scores.

“We’re really trying to optimize what [funds] we have allocated strategically and ensure we’re responsive to the demands of the region,” Mageean said.

She emphasized that the opinions of faculty have been taken into great consideration. After the table was published, Mageean met with each college to discuss the results and hear the dean’s input. She worked with them back and forth in order to come to agreements.

“We don’t have any favorite programs,” she said. “We’re looking at the university as a whole.”

The first concern Provost Mageean and her team addressed is how to increase investment in essential programs. The evolution of the city of Cleveland and the new resources becoming available to students contribute to the need for expansion of certain programs like Performing Arts, Engineering and Health Sciences.

According to the table, the College of Sciences and Health Professions elicits only one program suspension, while most will be maintained or invested in. Provost Mageean said Cleveland could be considered the health capital of the country due to the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital, which increases student demand. The close proximity of these resources and partnerships across the city draw the need to invest.

“Students who apply for admission to CSU appreciate that majors in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines open the door to many different careers in science, technology and health-related fields, and the choices and opportunities continue to grow,” said Professor Meredith Bond, dean of the College of Sciences and Health Professions.

Performing Arts is another program designated for expansion because Cleveland is a major center for the fine arts. Cleveland State’s recent investment in a new Fine Arts campus in the Cleveland Playhouse Square district displays the effort to promote further development.

“We believe that these new facilities, along with our special partnerships with, for example, the Cleveland Play House, will raise interest nationally in all our arts programs, particularly theatre,” said Professor Gregory Sadlek, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

The second concern prioritization focused on is the programs that have grown small over time. This is due in part to certain majors not being as popular as they used to be because priorities have shifted in terms of what people want to go to college for, explained Professor Nigamanth Sridhar, president of the faculty senate.

He further explained that faculty retiring plays an important role in programs shrinking. In recent years, many senior faculty, who were crucial to the running of some programs, have opted for retirement due to changes in the state pension plan and health benefits, which has left faculty vacancies that are not often being filled.

“In the last four or five years any time there was a faculty retirement the deans had to go back to the provost and justify why the faculty had to be replaced in that department,” said Professor Sridhar. “In the old days, when things were better in terms of budget, when faculty retired, they were automatically replaced.”

Provost Mageean agreed that while some programs may be suspended due to substantial understaffing, she said there comes a point where you can’t operate with too few people. However, she believes prioritization is the most strategic way to go about a considerable decrease in state funding.

“We are facing some challenging budget and demographic environments,” she said. “We can’t keep passing that on by way of tuition increases so you have to figure out how to make due with what you have.”

One major that would be changed completely is Women’s Studies. The table shows a suggestion to enlarge the currently small major into a broader category like Gender Studies.

Some students have also had to change their majors completely because of the impending shutting down of certain programs.

“It was very confusing for me,” said Kevin Darragh, who started as a Geology major and is now an Environmental Studies major in his sophomore year. “They told me the program [geology] was too small with not really any instructors.”

Declining student enrollments led to the cancellation of the major and the two remaining geology-focused faculty members were needed to contribute to the rapidly growing Environmental Sciences program, said Dean Bond. She is trying to ensure that the students currently enrolled in the program will still be able to finish with a Geology degree, as are other deans who oversee programs such as Women’s Studies.

“I got lucky that switching didn’t really mess me up and just threw me off for a little while,” said Darragh. “Changing a major literally is life changing sometimes.”

The prioritization team’s main obligation when reviewing programs was to the students, informed Provost Mageen. She emphasized that students should not be worried that a degree they started will disappear or that they’ll come back next spring and not be able to finish what they started.

“When the table says that they’re not going to invest in a particular program that doesn’t mean that tomorrow we’ll just shut the lights off and everyone’s gone,” said Professor Sridhar. “Students will not be short changed in any way.”

Not all majors fall specifically into one of the three categories. The format of certain programs might be revised or small programs might be combined with one another. For example, the current structure for Psychology was designed 20 years ago. In order to stay aligned with the changing direction of diversity studies, the team is considering other avenues for success to incorporate into the program, like focusing on research skills and business settings.

The changes suggested to review and suspend programs are projected to begin during the spring of next year. The process takes a considerable amount of time and each change must go through a 10-step process, requiring faculty review at several levels, which is provided on the Faculty Senate website. Investing occurs quicker because it is done through the allocation of faculty lines, which already takes place annually.

Provost Mageean said prioritization isn’t a great place to be but she is trying to attack the problem early on so as not to face consequences down the line. This process can direct resources in an advantageous manner and provide the most up-to-date information to students based on demand and career opportunities.

“I believe that the Provost and her team have made a thoughtful and comprehensive effort to accomplish a very difficult task,” said Dean Sadlek. “I believe their efforts will bear fruit.”