Many other higher education institutions face an uncertain financial future due to state support continuing to decline and student debt rising.
Future student enrollment is always unpredictable. In order to create an environment where the campus will continue to grow and meet the educational needs of students, the university must use its resources as efficiently as possible, developing long-term plans for students and the community rather than short-term solutions.
Program prioritization usually focuses on immediate fixes such as budget cuts, reducing staff, and eliminating programs. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point plans on facing these challenges proactively by focusing on realignment and innovation in order to better serve the students, families, and communities of the area.
“We are trying really hard to make program prioritization about growth and innovation, not about cutting,” said Greg Summers, the provost and vice chancellor of UWSP. “On some campuses, program prioritization is a reaction to a budget problem and it becomes about cutting and trying to fill a crisis driven kind of a hole. That is not at all what we are looking at. We are trying to be proactive and we are trying to work ahead so that we do not get into that kind of budget situation.”
Summers said that it is really about taking the overall enrollment of the university from around 9,600 students up to 10,000 students and figuring out how to do that with existing resources.
“You have to look at maximizing capacity of programs that you are going to resource,” Summers said. “We are certainly encouraging departments, faculty, staff, students and community partners to think about streamlining programs where it makes sense where you might want to put your resources towards a higher capacity program.”
Summers says that it is not at all about cutting programs or about meeting a particular budget requirement.
“There is nothing specific that we are looking to cut,” Summers said. “There could be programs that get cut, so I do not want to suggest that that is not a possibility, but that is not the mandate at all. It is likely that the UW system will take a stronger role in managing the program array within the state, but we do not know what that might look like, that is still just speculation on my part.”
Summers mentioned that they have seen some hints that the regents and the UW system may want to begin to look harder at the program array and that they are certainly interested in each campus being distinct from other campuses so that there is not a duplication of effort.
“That has always been part of the mandate of the UW system,” Summers said.
In order for the university’s program prioritization to be successful, it must follow certain guidelines that include confronting reality and embracing change, focusing on realignment and innovation to increase enrollment and revenue, rewarding positive changes, informing decisions with data and analysis, and holding themselves accountable.
“We want to make it an ongoing thing,” Summers said. “We certainly have a lot of programs and units on campus that have already been engaged in this kind of conversation. The purpose of calling the campus’s attention to it is to sort of ratchet up the sense of urgency for those kinds of conversations across campus.”
If it works well and it works as they are imagining it, it will hopefully become an ongoing process of continuing improvement, not just a short one time exercise.
“If this is going to work well it needs broad campus participation,” Summers said.