By David Dupont
BG Independent News
With numbers in hand, the BGSU administration is entering the action phase of its in-depth analysis that examines the number of students enrolled in on-campus programs and the number of students who remain there.
Originally called curriculum viability analysis, it has caused consternation among professors, who fear it is a way to cut back on curricula, which could be majors or minors.
Provost Joe Whitehead told the Faculty Senate, “The question is, do our program portfolios truly reflect the interests of our students and our families?” The survey aims to “see how we can maximize student success and enrolment…to ensure that we are heading in the right direction”.
The inquiry, which is expected to take place annually, has been completed and the dean’s reports have been delivered to his office, Whitehead said.
Now, data-driven stock decisions will be made over the next half year.
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Whitehead reported on the initiative to the board at the March meeting.
He noted that the initiative is now called the program “vitality” analysis. “I’ve had feedback from campus that ‘sustainability’ is not a positive term, so I’m using the program vitality analysis,” he said. “When you’re a physicist, you’re very literal, so I’m practicing my soft skills here.”
The analysis looked at three years of enrollment and retention figures. This, the faculty pointed out, includes the pandemic period. Retention was measured by whether it was above or below 78.3%, the retention rate for the first cohort of full-time students starting in fall 2020.
It also comes at a time when the university’s traditional undergraduate enrollment is down.
The programs were split into four buckets, Whitehead said.
The analysis found:
- 28 programs saw increased enrollment and increased retention
- 35 had an increase in enrollment and a decrease in retention
- 43 had declining enrollment and increasing retention
- 50 had declining enrollment and declining retention
The analysis also identified 24 programs with enrollment of 20 or fewer students. These programs overlap with the programs of the four categories.
Those whose enrollments and retention increase will be retained. Others will need to take specific actions to increase enrollment and/or retention.
Programs may be modified or designated for further analysis in the next academic year.
These actions could involve major changes to programs with more than a quarter of program requirements changed. Or it could mean restructuring the program by changing it from a major to a minor or integrating it into another program.
Additionally, plans can be made to attract more students and keep them in the programs, including more marketing and recruitment.
Deans are responsible for making those recommendations, Whitehead said.
Programs that have declining retention may need to make changes to tie them more directly to a career, Whitehead told administrators.
When later asked if he was surprised that more programs fell into the category of declining enrollment and declining retention, he replied that academia likes to add programs, but is less inclined to close them.
David Jackson, president of the BGSU Faculty Association, said he hopes data from the scan will soon be shared with faculty. “There is a tendency to expect professors to produce within very specific deadlines and for the response time to be unlimited.”
Beyond that, he said, he has three concerns.
“First of all, just because a program has a low enrollment rate doesn’t make it inherently a less valuable program. I think we have to be careful when extrapolating low sign-up with low value.
Each university has a variety of programs. Some are high profile, high enrollment programs that the institution boasts of. Still others are more modest, but still necessary.
His second concern is that faculty and program administrators have little, if any, influence over what students decide to pursue. “Are we going to be judged, evaluated and evaluated on factors that are not in our control?”
Jackson’s third concern is that students change majors, and that faculty and program administrators have some control over this. But if resources are going to be allocated to growing programs and the rest are threatened with merger or elimination, this can produce unhealthy competition.
He has already heard that there could be “poaching” or recruitment of students into similar courses. This, Jackson said, “creates moral hazard.”
This program analysis coincides with the university having to produce a state-mandated report on low-enrollment programs or duplicate programs at other nearby institutions.
State law requires universities to conduct this study every five years, and trustees must approve the report at its September meeting.
Universities should look to other institutions within the same JobsOhio economic region. The Northwest region, which includes Bowling Green, encompasses 17 counties.
This means looking at the programs offered by the University of Toledo and BGSU.
Some programs like nursing are in such high demand that it’s necessary to have two programs, Whitehead told administrators.
In other cases, universities can work together to deliver programs more efficiently.
Five years ago, the study resulted in UT and BGSU signing an agreement that provided a clearer structure for students to take foreign language courses at either school. . Thus, a less popular course, Arabic, for example, can be offered in a school. In the case of Arabic, it is offered in Toledo.
[RELATED: BGSU & UT agreement boosts courses in world languages & cultures]
While changes in technology necessitate changes in programs, none of the programs studied are archaic, Jackson said.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with an institution evaluating its range of offerings and deciding what it should and should not do. But some things have to be done no matter what. There are certain things a university must have to be considered worthy of being a university.