NIU Posts Program Prioritization Reports; Feedback Requested

May 2, 2016

The highly anticipated Program Prioritization Task Force reports were released shortly after 3 p.m. Monday afternoon on the Northern Illinois University website.

NIU Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman told WNIJ News that the Prioritization reports are a step in the process which began in 2014 and will continue for some time to come.

NIU Provost Lisa Freeman
Credit Northern Illinois University

She urged everyone reading the reports to take a broad view.

“People should read the task force reports and think about the big picture," she said, "rather than worrying particularly about what is this going to mean immediately to things like salaries and staffs and workforce.”

The reports place 223 Academic programs and 236 Administrative programs into one of five categories, ranging from being a candidate for enhanced resources to subject to additional review.

The original intent was to have each task force spread the programs it was reviewing more or less equally across five categories. The Academic Task Force adhered fairly closely to that plan, but the Administrative Task Force changed the proportions based on its evaluations of the programs.

The five categories used in the prioritization, and the number of programs in each category, are:

  • Candidate for enhancement: High-performance programs of high importance to NIU, making efficient and effective use of their current resources but having unmet demand or potential for growth;  NIU is missing an opportunity to excel without resource enhancement.
    Academic, 44 programs; Administrative, 28 programs
  • Candidate for unchanged resources: Important and necessary programs for NIU which are making good use of their current resources and generally meeting demand and doing well with current resources; the potential for growth is not as great as for the enhanced resource category.
    Academic, 45 programs; Administrative, 66 programs
  • Candidate for reduction in resources: Programs which may be underperforming, or may have excess capacity or less potential for growth relative to other programs at NIU.
    Academic, 40 programs; Administrative, 47 programs
  • Candidate for transformation: Programs which need to improve importance, performance, and/or use of resources, which may involve increasing or refocusing resources. They appear to have greater potential than their performance indicates.
    Academic, 44 programs; Administrative, 55 programs
  • Candidate for review: Programs which are relatively lower performing and of lower priority to the NIU mission. There may be internal and external demand for some of these programs, but there is not enough participation to make the program feasible. Further review is intended prior to any elimination, which will follow NIU policy.
    Academic, 41 programs; Administrative, 40 programs

The Administrative Task Force also felt that a number of business practices at NIU should be changed, including the "chargeback" system where departments or services "pay" other internal entities for use of facilities or services the university provides. This task force also urged review of university services to determine which should be duplicated in various locations and which should be distributed across the enterprise.

The Academic Task Force concerns include defining what diversity means, improving marketing for high-quality programs, and addressing institutional barriers to successful interdisciplinary programs.

Some changes – such as those recommended before the Prioritization process began -- may take effect comparatively quickly. But Freeman notes that much of what is in the reports will take a while to reach its eventual status.

“We’re talking about a multi-year process," she said. "We’re talking about planning resource allocation over a period of four to five years to really realize some of the things that will arise from this initiative.”

Informal feedback – anonymous or otherwise -- is encouraged on the website through May 23. Formal responses from shared governance groups also are due by that date.

Deans, vice presidents and program leaders will review all feedback and prepare action plans by July 15.

The action plans will evaluate whether the recommendations are reasonable, propose appropriate action, and detail steps that will be taken and people and programs that will be affected.

Freeman said the Program Prioritization is not directly the result of the Illinois state budget impasse or the delayed distribution of reduced funds to public universities last week.

According to a "Frequently Asked Questions" page on the university website, "Program Prioritization is strategic and long-term in nature, and represents a fundamental change in the way NIU allocates resources.  Furthermore, while Program Prioritization may result in some program elimination and/or consolidation, the process typically also calls for enhancement and new investment in other programs."

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