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Program Prioritization Task Forces "On Schedule" with Narrative Reviews

February 15, 2016

The co-chairs of NIU’s Program Prioritization task forces say their groups are making good progress with reading and scoring the nearly 500 program narratives submitted in December.

Academic Task Force Co-Chairs George Slotsve and Alan Clemens and Administrative Task Force Co-Chairs Michelle Pickett and Matt Streb say the groups have fine-tuned their processes as they’ve gone along.

“The two task forces have adopted different approaches, so I’d say we’re on parallel but separate tracks,” Slotsve said.

On the academic side, all 20 task force members are reading all narratives and scoring as they go along. The administrative group chose a different approach, with each narrative being read by 11 members and then read again by the entire group if the initial read fails to result in a scoring consensus.

In both cases, scores are submitted anonymously online prior to weekly meetings. That approach allows meeting time to be spent in more meaningful discussion of key issues, according to Matt Streb.

“To a member, the task forces are serious about their work and investing a great deal of time in these reviews,” Streb said. The four co-chairs estimate that members are spending an average of about 15 hours per week on Program Prioritization, including the time required to thoroughly read each narrative, make notes, and deliver an initial score prior to group discussion.

"We're extremely grateful to have a support structure in place that allows us to focus on the work of reviewing the narratives," Clemens said. "The mathematical models developed by the data team that we're using have been very helpful, and the experts at DoIT created a fantastic piece of custom software that both task forces are able to use for scoring and categorization that is flexible enough to support the differences in the way we're doing our work, but robust enough to see us through to a meaningful conclusion."

Ultimately, each program will be placed into one of five categories:

Prioritization Categories

  • Candidate for enhanced resources
  • Continue with no change in resources
  • Continue with reduced resources
  • Requires transformation
  • Subject to additional review; candidate for phase-out

“Categorization isn’t magic and it’s not automatically dictated by mathematical scores,” Michelle Pickett explained. “There is subjective judgment involved, especially when it comes to matching up program strengths and weaknesses with our university mission. That’s not something that can be totally automated,” she added.

Streb echoed that sentiment, adding that category placement does not necessarily dictate a particular outcome.

“When our external panelists were here (from other schools that have already undergone program prioritization), they shared many examples of programs whose category assignments led to a variety of outcomes, including new investment, mergers, increased private support, a change in focus and a host of other possibilities,” he said.

“The final decision on program futures is not ours to make,” Pickett added. “We’ve been asked to categorize programs, and our challenge is to make sure that that process is comprehensive, rigorous, and inclusive – and I believe it is.”

Slotsve said that once all reviews and scoring have been completed, there will be a period of “reconciliation” within both task forces during which conflicting recommendations will be identified and revisited.

“A good example would be vastly different recommendations for a Ph.D. and a master’s in the same program area,” he explained. “We have to back up and look at programs holistically, even as we’ve identified strengths and weaknesses at a more granular level.”

With 100% narrative submission by program heads across the university, the task force co-chairs say their task is daunting but exciting.

"Participating in a process like this really provides us a spectacular opportunity to take in the university as a whole," said Clemens. "Recognizing the scope of the work that has been done across campus and the potential for positive change that moments like this provide is a constant reminder of what a privilege it is to be a part of this process."

The task forces have until April 30 to complete reviews, reconcile rankings and submit a comprehensive final report to senior leadership.