Goucher is currently undergoing a Program Prioritization Process. This process takes stock of programs that are currently in place and determines which programs are “healthy,” and “along the way we should discover what is working and not working within the programs,” according to Dr. Micah Webster, the faculty chair and Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science.
The goal of program prioritization is to develop an understanding of the institution and its programs in order to direct Goucher’s resources towards programs that support the institution’s goals. To clarify, “program” refers to a course of study requiring the completion of a specified number of semester credit hours from among a prescribed group of courses that leads to a formal award, ie. majors and minors (Source: MHEC).
The data collection process for the prioritization process began last semester and should be completed by mid-June, according to Dr. Webster. This process is being conducted by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, the Office of Admissions, the Office of the Provost, and the programs themselves.
A committee of faculty that includes the Curriculum and Budget & Planning Committees, as well as tenured and non-tenured faculty, and representatives from all major faculty committees, work with the Provost to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees. According to Professor Ann Duncan, the Chair of the Academic Policies Committee, though the process is intended to be faculty led, because the Board of Trustees set the process in motion, it will be they who decide if the faculty plan sufficiently addresses the college’s needs.
Program prioritization programs tend to begin for financial reasons. According to Robert C. Dickeson, who wrote an influential book entitled Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance, the most commonly cited reason for program prioritization is financial stress. Other reasons may include prioritization being a recurring process or part of strategic planning overall, the unacceptability of making equivalent cuts in all programs, and the governing board wanting the college to prioritize. According to Professor Duncan, while the process is intended to be conducted independently of dollar amounts, “the Board of Trustees hopes this process will save money by right sizing the faculty to fit our student body.”
When interviewed, President Jose Bowen emphasized that the process is “routine.” Goucher’s last program prioritization ended in 2014, before the start of President Bowen’s tenure at Goucher, during which the process recommended the elimination of Chinese and additions to the Psychology Department.
President Bowen cited a couple reasons for Goucher’s current program prioritization: the college is scheduled for re-accreditation, and hopes to expand in the future. In order to expand and to create new programs, the college must withdraw resources from existing programs. “You can’t keep adding. At some point, you either add, or you move things around,” said President Bowen.
By keeping tuition costs the same for one year and choosing to increase tuition by only 1.9% in 2018-19, President Bowen has committed to making Goucher more affordable. However, this means a decrease in net tuition revenue for the college, while inflation continues to increase. It also means that existing programs cannot be added to if costs are to remain the same. If student class sizes shrink, faculty must be reduced.
One possible solution to rising costs is increasing costs is changing the faculty-to-student ratio. “Costs are getting so prohibitive that there has been more openness to different size classes and different pedagogy,” said education consulting firm leader Kent John Chabotar, as cited in an article entitled “Tuition Conundrum,” published on InsideHigherEd.com. Of course, this also means reducing the numbers of faculty.
According to President Bowen, Goucher’s student-faculty ratio hasn’t changed, and the future size of the faculty will depend in part on the size of incoming classes. “If we grow [the student body] a little bit, we’ll add faculty,” said President Bowen. “If we shrink a little bit, then we’ll reduce faculty.” According to the President, the goal for Goucher in future years is to “grow slowly.”
It seems unlikely, however, that class sizes will grow. Colleges are facing financial trouble across the country, particularly small liberal arts colleges. President Bowen discussed the fact that there are fewer college students across the country than there were ten years ago, so colleges are competing for a smaller pool of students. “Right now, there are a million fewer people in college than there were in 2010,” said Bowen. “So there are fewer people going to college [and in that smaller pool] there are more people going to state institutions.”
Despite this, Goucher plans to remain a liberal arts institution. When asked what his vision was for Goucher five years down the road, Bowen said, “The truth is, that if I am really successful, if Goucher is really successful, we will remain a liberal arts college. That may sound less ambitious, but we may be the last liberal arts college. Because if you read the paper, they’re closing, they’re merging, they’re adding other kinds of things, they’re adding [vocational] programs…We want to be a liberal arts college. So what matters is how we do that. What kind of instruction do we offer? How do we keep classes nice and small?”
The “how” is where program prioritization comes in. However, while the process is intended to ultimately benefit the college, this does not come without difficulties. The process may result in recommendations to eliminate positions or cut back current programs. Because of the instability and insecurity that this creates, faculty and staff may be concerned about the future of their programs and positions throughout this process. “Those things are painful, but they are part of the normal process,” said President Bowen.
Because the program prioritization process is faculty-run, it also involves additional work for professors. Faculty must come to an agreement about how to best measure the effectiveness of programs and then collect all the relevant data. According to Professor Ann Duncan, one challenge has been that, when this process was announced, the faculty were already hard at work on implementing the new curriculum. Much of the work on the new curriculum has been stalled until staffing numbers and program status are clear.
According to Duncan, “faculty are incredibly excited about the new curriculum and the creativity and interdisciplinarity it allows.” However, it will be a while before it is put in place across the board. For the next two years, faculty must run two different curriculums at the same time, as some students remain with the Liberal Education Requirements, while others are fullfing the new general education requirements, called Goucher Commons Requirements.
Once the program prioritization process is complete, faculty may also need to determine how to implement the new curriculum with fewer faculty. “We passed this curriculum with a certain sized faculty and with even the promise that we might be able to grow a little,” said Professor Duncan. “The reality now is that there are a lot of positions that have not been filled and we may be losing some positions.”
On a national level, one of the largest issues facing program prioritization programs is a lack of faculty buy-in. Despite this, members of Goucher’s faculty do understand the need for a response to the current challenges in higher education, and express concern for Goucher’s future. “The faculty recognize that times are tight financially, not just for Goucher but for colleges across the country,” said Professor Duncan. “At the same time, we want to ensure that any process we participate in maintains the integrity of the Goucher education.” At this stage, the effects of the process remain to be seen.
The Curriculum and Budget & Planning Committees have formed the criteria for the evaluation of programs, which are: relevance, efficiency, opportunity analysis, evidence of impact. These categories include factors like relevance, alignment with college mission, internal and external demand for program, teaching effectiveness in programs, contributions to and in support of the programs, numbers of students in the program, evidence of engagement with students, operational efficiency of the program, etc.
Goucher faculty have also asked administration to consider a voluntary separation program, which would provide financial benefits for faculty who decide to voluntarily leave the college. This program would benefit the college by generating compensation savings that can be spent in other ways, while the faculty member would benefit from both the financial benefits and the voluntary nature of the program.
Correction: Edits for clarity have been made to the fourth paragraph.
MADELINE ST. JOHN and GREER TURNER
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