A comprehensive review of academic programs, originally projected to provide long-term savings for the UNC system, has ended — without identifying concrete ways to cut programs or costs.
The system is still searching for ways to absorb a 15.6 percent state budget cut enacted this summer. Now that it can’t count on eliminating unnecessary programs to make up some of the $414 million cut, one of the only avenues left is raising tuition.
UNC-system President Thomas Ross commissioned a review of potential unnecessary program duplication in January, citing looming budget cuts as the catalyst for the review.
Jim Woodward, former chancellor of N.C. State University and UNC-Charlotte, worked for seven months on the review and presented his findings Thursday to the system’s Board of Governors.
His final product was void of a formal definition of “unnecessary program duplication,” which he had initially said would form the basis of the review.
Although the phrase remained undefined, he said he did not identify any unnecessarily duplicated programs.
“I don’t see that this University has a major problem with unnecessary program duplication,” he said, adding that individual universities’ existing review processes have sufficed to cull unnecessary programs.
Every two years, the board asks each university to evaluate programs that don’t meet the system’s productivity standards.
In February the board voted to eliminate 60 programs systemwide, including 36 baccalaureate programs, as a result of the 2010 reviews.
Administrators said Woodward’s report still proved valuable even though it didn’t offer any additional opportunities for program elimination.
NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson said he agrees with the report’s findings.
“Was I surprised by it? No,” he said. “I think the report is valuable because it points to some opportunities for collaboration.”
Woodward said the board should expect campuses to continue proposing new programs in order to meet students’ needs.
“I think it is totally inappropriate for you to say, ‘OK, we’re not going to approve any programs in the next five years,’” he said.
In his report, Woodward issued some recommendations to avoid future concerns of unnecessary program duplication.
“The way to deal with that is to take a look and strengthen perhaps the program productivity review process,” Woodward said.
He said the review process could be strengthened by clarifying universities’ teaching missions, so the schools only propose programs that are in line with their objectives.
Woodward also recommended using online education to facilitate cooperation among campuses.
The board has advocated using online resources to cut costs. But now, with substantial tuition increases already being discussed, board members said they might need someone to lead the charge in online education.
Board members discussed rearranging leadership within the system’s General Administration to create a position that would oversee online education — a position that board members said would need to be filled by someone who was ready to “walk on water.”
Members also discussed tuition increases as a way to recoup lost state funding and maintain the quality of the system’s institutions.
Campuses must submit tuition-increase proposals to the board by Dec. 9.
Per the system’s new Four Year Tuition Plan, proposals must remain below a 6.5 percent cap unless campuses can prove an additional increase would allow them to “catch up” to their public peer institutions’ tuition rates.
Schools’ tuition must remain within the bottom quarter of those peers.
Some universities have considered increasing tuition above the cap. UNC-CH recently discussed increasing its in-state tuition by 40 percent during the next two to four years.
Appalachian State University Chancellor Kenneth Peacock said he doesn’t think his university can keep its tuition increase below the cap. He said ASU might propose an increase of about 13 percent.
“In all honesty, you do what you have to do,” he said. “Nobody likes tuition increases. None of the chancellors do at all, but the quality of education — that is the concern.”
Ross said during the meeting that any proposal above the cap would have to be justified.
“It’s not a given that the board is going to approve any of these plans.”
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