UAA releases year-long program review, finds areas to improve


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More than three quarters of the academic programs at the University of Alaska Anchorage could benefit from change, according to an internal university report released Aug. 13.

Each of the 313 academic programs offered at UAA was categorized, and 86 were deemed to need “further review.” Those programs were rated as the least efficient or effective use of university resources and it was determined additional study is needed to plan the programs’ futures.

In an Aug. 11 letter to UAA faculty and staff, Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle and Provost Elisha Baker wrote that the goal of the report was to help university leadership align the school’s mission with the needs of the state, students, faculty and staff.

“The process has provided numerous examples of how we can improve as an institution and how we can come together as colleagues to help make informed, thoughtful change happen at UAA,” Spindle and Baker wrote.

The program review began in May 2013 and examined the 2013-14 academic year.  During that time 6,817 students graduated with a certificate or degree from UAA. Just more than 7 percent of those graduates — 478 — came from the programs categorized to need further review, which make up 27 percent of the total programs at the university.

“Many of these programs belong to departments with one or more programs that are more mission-aligned, and reconsidering these programs might lead to more efficient internal allocation of resources within departments,” the report concludes.

Lower enrollment rates leading to lower graduation was found in some programs with industry or sponsor support, which could indicate such programs were not established based on need, but mainly on projection, according to the report.

“We have to move past the ‘If you build it, they will come’ model of curriculum development,” it states.

Academic programs were not named in the report, regardless of how they were rated. The 18-member Academic Task Force tasked with evaluating the programs was comprised completely of UAA faculty.

Inefficiencies were discovered in multiple programs that exist for similar purposes, and the report indicates administrators and faculty were pushed to examine program clusters to maximize collaboration and minimize overlap.

Programs deemed the better in better shape than those needing further review were placed in four other categories: transform, consider for enhancement, priority for enhancement and maintain.

Along with UAA’s program review, similar evaluations at University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Southeast are intended to help guide the university system’s three main campuses through lean budget years.

A $15.9 million cut by the Legislature to unobligated general fund appropriations in the system’s current budget is being absorbed primarily by the three universities. UAA’ pro-rated portion of the cut is $5.8 million.

Overall, the Anchorage campus saw the general fund portion of its fiscal 2015 operating budget shrink 1.6 percent, the least among the state’s three primary institutions.

The 62 programs, 20 percent of the 313 available, labeled for as needing to “transform” may warrant an initial investment of resources to improve the programs’ alignment, but are in better shape than those requiring further review, according to the report. They are “conceptually well aligned, but not well executed,” the authors wrote.

The 46 “priority for enhancement” programs, or 15 percent of the total offerings, produced more than 27 percent of UAA graduates for the year and are where added resources could reap the most benefit for school, according to the report.

Without more resources it was clear to the Academic Task Force that these programs would not be able to reach their full potential, as they are well positioned to grow and continue operating efficiently, the report indicates.

Along those lines but to a lesser extent, programs that should be considered for enhancement — 46 in all — graduated 1,414 students, nearly 21 percent of all UAA graduates during the 2013-14 academic year. Those programs are “making efficient and effective use of their current resources as demonstrated by contributions in teaching, service, and research and creative activity for the relevant field,” the report states.

The effectiveness of such programs could be expanded with additional resources, the task force found, and not allocating those resources could lead to missed opportunities for the university.

Programs in “maintain” status produced 27 percent of total graduates out of 23 percent of UAA’s offerings. These were the programs deemed to be well aligned with university goals and community needs when compared to other academic programs. They make “sufficient use of their current resources” and are necessary to UAA’s mission of making efficient use of resources, but additional appropriations beyond usual cost increases would not greatly improve their performance, the task force concluded.

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