Focusing our academic mission

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Program Prioritization Task Force Overview

Western Carolina University's mission focuses on improving individual lives and enhancing economic and community development in our region, state and nation through engaged learning opportunities in our academic programs, educational outreach, research and creative activities, and cultural activities. Toward this end, WCU began an academic program prioritization process in 2012-2013 to assess the quality, productivity and centrality of all academic programs, with the goal of better aligning academic resources with strategic priorities and opportunities. 

This process will allow us to make best use of our existing resources to serve our students and to assure the growth, vitality and excellence of Western Carolina University.  We are undertaking this initiative not under the imminent threat of looming budget cuts, but rather with a resolve to take a proactive and long-term view of how WCU can invest in excellent and distinctive programs for the future. Simultaneously, it is undeniable that budget constraints, declining federal and state funding, and limits on future tuition increases, as well as broader changes within the landscape of higher education, have affected our operation as an institution. Prioritization will ensure that WCU is flexible and responsive during these challenging times. We will be successful as we work together and transcend our own divisional perspectives to take a broad perspective of our university as a whole. This process of academic program prioritization is taking place simultaneously with an administrative prioritization process to ensure that the university is functioning to its highest capacity at all levels.

The Academic Program Prioritization Task Force is composed of students, staff, faculty and administrators. The task force membership, representing a broad array of experiences, perspectives, and disciplines, was appointed after nominations were solicited from deans, department heads, the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate and the Student Government Association. All members of the task force are committed to ensuring that the prioritization process is conducted fairly, transparently, comprehensively and consistently. Furthermore, all members should be seen as representatives of the university as a whole and not representatives of narrow interests, departments, colleges or individual programs. It must be emphasized that the program prioritization process is not being undertaken with predetermined goals involving elimination or changes to any particular number of programs or with any specific financial goals.

The task force spent the fall 2012 semester conducting research on program prioritization, by studying academic literature and through comparison with various system, peer and regional comprehensive institutions that recently have undertaken and implemented their own program prioritization processes. The task force used this research as it defined units of review, and in choosing and defining criteria and measures, both qualitative and quantitative, for our prioritization process.  This process relied on consistent and comprehensive data-driven conclusions, with the integration of qualitative and quantitative data that is extant, available and can be assessed reliably, according to selected parameters. In November 2012, the task force vetted proposed criteria and measures in open forums and through various university committees and representative bodies, such as the Chancellor's Leadership Council, the Council of Deans, the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate and the Student Government Association, among others.

The spring 2013 semester was spent collecting and reviewing data and presenting preliminary conclusions in numerous open forums. The process concludes with a series of recommendations to Chancellor David O. Belcher, which might include:

  • Investment in programs that will advance WCU's vision and programs with a high potential for success
  • Identification of successful programs that should continue their current course;
  • Increasing the effectiveness or efficiency in programs that may lack focus in offerings or current structure;
  • Developing collaborative programs within the university or with external partners;
  • Phasing out some programs and reinvesting resources in those programs that offer more promise with respect to our core values and mission. We recognize that if programs are discontinued it will take time to honor our commitments to students already enrolled in the program as well as to seek alternate assignments for tenured faculty members.

Also among the outcomes will be a suggested iterative process, which ensures proactive prioritization will take place on a five-year cycle. This process will include recommendations for different types of data to be identified and captured annually by the Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness for future program reviews and prioritization. The process also will include a mechanism for institutionalizing on-going program prioritization review.

Faculty, staff and students have been invited to provide feedback throughout the process, via email, feedback forms on the prioritization website, open forums and other means. We hope that throughout the process and going forward we can preserve the collegial culture of WCU and provide the transparency that this process demands.  While not all will agree with our recommendations, we hope that all members of the campus community will feel that the process was fair, open and transparent.

Western Carolina University is committed to serving our region as its educational, economic and cultural center. We strive to become a national model for student learning and engagement, embracing our responsibilities as a regionally engaged university. Among our core goals and principles, WCU aspires to free and open interchange of ideas, responsible stewardship, and organizational effectiveness and sustainability. The Program Prioritization Task Force is deeply aware of the impact of our actions on our colleagues, students and external community, and we thank you for your support and participation in this important process that will help us become a strong institution.

The Program Prioritization Task Force

  • Provost Angi Brenton, co-chair
  • Vicki Szabo, co-chair
  • John Baley, student
  • Debra Burke
  • Joan Byrd
  • Timothy Carstens
  • Laura Cruz
  • Chip Ferguson
  • Jannidy Gonzalez, student
  • Georgia Hambrecht
  • Bruce Henderson
  • Mary Jean Herzog
  • David Hudson
  • David Kinner
  • Jason Lavigne
  • Brian Railsback
  • Hannah Wallis-Johnson, student

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