Strategic Plan ACrit.html

Achieving Distinction 2000:

A Strategic Plan For The University Of Iowa

Appendix C


A report from The Strategic Planning Steering Group
August 5, 1991


In this report, the Strategic Planning Steering Group sets forth University-wide criteria upon which it will base decisions about program enhancements and reductions. The report also describes the role of the Steering Group in this process, and provides background to the process by which the University's Strategic Plan will guide decisionmaking on resource allocation during the next several years. A "program" refers to organized activities of academic and nonacademic departments, offices, or units.
The criteria, detailed below, will serve to implement aspects of the University strategic plan, Achieving Distinction. They are designed to promote strategic decisions about both academic and nonacademic programs and to deal with the longer-term implications of the University's current environment. This statement of criteria is consistent with an earlier one developed in 1976 by May Brodbeck (Vice President for Academic Affairs) in collaboration with members of the Committee on Interinstitutional Cooperation.
The criteria provide a common foundation which first-level planning units (e.g., colleges, administrative units) can use in accord with their specific missions. Colleges and other units will be expected to use the same general criteria to evaluate their programs. If justified by unique features of their mission, they may emphasize different indicators or add special secondary criteria, but it is important that this common set of university-wide criteria underlie all such modifications.
With this communication, we seek to inform the University community of the criteria the Steering Group will be using in its deliberations, and to invite reaction. We are adopting these criteria on an interim basis and will be using them through this Fall. Revisions will be considered in response to comments received in the Fall. Further opportunities for revision of the criteria will occur in the future.

Role of the Steering Group

The Strategic Planning Steering Group (consisting of the President, the four Vice Presidents, and one faculty member) is an important component of the implementation process devised by the Strategic Planning and Implementation Process Committee, chaired by Steve Collins, President of the Faculty Senate in 1990-1991 (see report of March 31, 1991). Efforts are also underway to create a new strategic planning committee, charged with updating the University's plan, and to put in place additional elements of ongoing planning (e.g., the Administrative Planning Committee recommended by the Collins committee). The Steering Group has overall responsibility for plan implementation and "serves to focus institutional resources and energies on strategic planning and plan implementation." (see p. 9 of the Collins report, "Processes for Ongoing Strategic Planning and Plan Implementation").
The Steering Group has three major goals for the next year. First, it will devise institution-wide policies and strategies for using current resources more efficiently and for generating flexible resource pools. Second, it will sharpen and refine institutional priorities, make judgments about academic and nonacademic programs, and direct resources toward programs reflecting institutional priorities. Third, it will oversee the efforts of colleges and other administrative units to do likewise. Starting this summer, the Steering Group has been working toward an initial round of program decisions to be completed in the Fall.


In 1986-87, a University Self Study was completed and its report, Building on Strength, proposed ambitious aspirations for the University and suggested a number of steps for moving toward them. One of the steps was to make planning more strategic and pervasive in the University's operation. Shortly thereafter, the University decided to undertake strategic planning on an ongoing basis. In 1989, the University created a strategic plan (Achieving Distinction), which set forth directions and priorities for the next five years. Colleges and other units also developed strategic plans during this period.
Some parts of the plans were implemented immediately, and a committee of faculty designed an ongoing planning and implementation process. In Spring of 1991, that committee (chaired by Steve Collins, then President of the Faculty Senate) completed a report, "Processes for Ongoing Strategic Planning and Plan Implementation." Following distribution of the report to the University community and the receipt of comments, President Rawlings adopted its recommendations.
Since completion of the University's strategic plan, several environmental conditions have changed. Two are worthy of particular note. First, the University has found it more difficult to control its enrollment than anticipated by the plan; in fact, enrollment has declined by about 3 percent. Although there is some evidence that the University may have stemmed the decline, the financial effects of the decreases experienced so far will be evident for three or more years. Second, while the economy of the state has shown and is expected to continue to show modest growth, the state budget has suffered from overexpenditures. A flat University budget or even further reductions are possible. Of particular importance, the significant growth of faculty envisioned by the strategic plan is not likely to continue this year. Achieving Distinction called for setting priorities among academic programs, with some downsizing and phasing out of programs as part of this process. The current budget situation requires the acceleration of this process in order to maintain and enhance programs of high priority. Given the above background, the University now is positioned to strengthen programs selectively in accord with strategic plans and, if necessary, to accomplish this through selective cuts. The enclosed criteria are designed to move the institution in both of these directions. If successful, a significant number of programs within the University will become stronger and, perhaps, larger over the next few years. Some programs will become smaller and have more narrow missions. Others may be phased out entirely.

The Criteria

The criteria designed to set programmatic priorities are divided into two classes, primary and secondary. Primary criteria include the quality of a program and its centrality to the University role and mission. These two criteria are of the highest priority, and their assessment should represent the first phase of any program evaluation. Once the quality and centrality of programs are established, a set of secondary criteria may be applicable. Secondary criteria are "modifiers" for evaluations based on quality/centrality. Secondary criteria include Student Demand, Potential for Excellence, External Impact, and Cost. The secondary criteria come into consideration when the primary criteria reveal problems of quality or centrality in a program or when it is necessary to distinguish among programs with similar levels of quality and centrality.
Quantitatively driven or formula-based evaluations, though having an aura of objectivity, are often misleading and should not be overvalued in the assessment process. The optimal basis for judging a particular criterion involves, in virtually every case, assessing a combination of quantitative and qualitative data.

Primary Criteria

Quality. Judgments of quality, while inherently subjective, are nonetheless essential to any program evaluation. This assessment requires program reviews undertaken with substantial faculty involvement. Evaluations of undergraduate and graduate programs should incorporate standards specific to the discipline or program and also involve a comparison to the best programs in the University, state, and nation. In the case of graduate programs, comparisons with the very best programs within the Big Ten and nationally are quite important. Top graduate programs nationally should anchor the high end of the quality standard applied to graduate programs within the University. As a general rule, departments should emphasize a subset of the areas within their discipline and strive toward the highest level of quality at both undergraduate and graduate levels in those areas. Even a department too small as a whole to reach lofty national distinction should be expected to develop subareas that achieve such a level of excellence.
The most important basis for assessments of quality is the current set of program evaluations developed from the University's periodic review process. These internally-generated evaluations combine substantial faculty involvement with the advice of external faculty reviewers, supplemented by essential dialogue between a Dean and the program's faculty. While specific indicators of quality may vary somewhat across programs, the following seem applicable to virtually any program: (1) the characteristics of the student body attracted to the program (e.g., qualifications of entering students, the success with which the program competes for students on a state and national scale, the diversity of students in the program); (2) the quality of the program's faculty (e.g., teaching effectiveness, published scholarship in major journals, exhibitions or performances in major forums, noteworthy awards and honors for teaching, research and service, the success of efforts to compete for research grants where applicable, and competition for current faculty from other universities); (3) the degree to which a department's programs or subareas have reached a high ranking, nationally; (4) the quality of the curriculum at undergraduate and graduate levels; (5) the quality of student placements in jobs, including academic positions or other educational programs after students graduate; (6) post-graduation student evaluations of programs (e.g., Registrar surveys, surveys by the department or program).
Centrality. Judgments about centrality should be based on the degree to which the body of knowledge created and disseminated by a program or discipline is critical or necessary to teaching, research, and/or service at the University. Centrality to the University's role and mission is of utmost importance, as is centrality to the goals and Areas of Focus in the University's Strategic Plan. The centrality criterion encourages us to raise questions about the existing organization of knowledge embedded in the structure of the University.
Indicators of centrality include the following: (1) the degree to which a program contributes to the University's role and mission; (2) the contribution the program makes to the goals of the Strategic Plan; (3) the degree to which a program contributes to the five Areas of Focus in Achieving Distinction; (4) the impact on other University Programs, as suggested by the number and proportion of nonmajors in its curriculum and the program's contribution to productive interdisciplinary research efforts; (5) the extent of the program's contribution to general education requirements for undergraduates, e.g., its share of total general education enrollment. Centrality judgments are especially difficult and interpretive, but the above indicators should provide a solid basis for making them. Strategic decisions about programs, based on quality and centrality, involve four basic possibilities: strengthen, maintain, downsize, or phase out. Such decisions need to treat quality and centrality as matters of degree and also consider the secondary criteria. Quality and centrality, in combination, have critical strategic implications, but it is important to recognize that these are not necessarily definitive. Secondary criteria may lead one to consider refinements, adjustments, or modifications of the strategies indicated by assessments of quality and centrality. Secondary criteria also are a basis for making distinctions among programs at similar levels of quality and centrality.
Student Demand. While it is clearly important to consider both current and prospective student demand in assessing programs, it is also important to recognize that popularity and program quality are not necessarily related. Demand refers to the (1) degree of student interest in a department's or program's courses, (2) number of majors at the undergraduate and graduate level, (3) number of applicants to the program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and (4) degrees granted by the program.
Student demand must be carefully weighed in conjunction with quality and centrality. For example, low enrollment programs that are also low in centrality would have to demonstrate very high quality to warrant being maintained at current levels; low enrollment programs of both low quality and centrality should almost certainly be phased out. Further, high enrollment should not insulate a program from possible trimming. A program with substantial enrollment but lower in quality and centrality than other programs might be phased down, especially if the potential for improvement is not high.
Major indicators of student demand include (1) the total enrollment and enrollment trends for the program as well as the applicant/admit ratio, especially as they compare to peer institutions, (2) the number of majors in the program, again, compared to peer institutions, and (3) the number of graduates and time to graduation. Assessments along these dimensions should also involve comparisons with other programs within as well as beyond the University.
Potential for Excellence. It is vital that the University be willing to invest in programs with the clear potential for significant improvement to the point of achieving national stature. A program of relatively lower quality than some others but with a recent record of impressive accomplishment and strong leadership may prove to be a more worthy investment than a stagnating higher quality program. Attention to programs "on the move" in which modest investments will yield large increments of quality would appear to make a great deal of strategic sense.
Potential for excellence is an especially important criterion when a program high in centrality is relatively low in quality than other programs. If there is a demonstrable potential for excellence, such a program could be a good candidate for special investment. Otherwise, potential for excellence is most useful for distinguishing programs within categories generated by the quality and centrality evaluations.
An early indicator of a program's potential for excellence s a rapid growth in faculty quality. Specific indicators include: (1) quality of recent faculty hiring (e.g., amount and kind of competition for them), (2) rate of publication in top professional journals, (3) significant editorial activities of faculty (e.g., editorships, editorial boards, NSF panels), (4) initial evidence of outstanding teaching, (5) outside inquiries and offers to faculty, (6) in some disciplines, a growth of external (competitive) research funds, (7) degree that a department is effectively focusing its faculty effort on what it can do best, and (8) national and international shifts which open up new opportunities for high-quality teaching and research.
External Impact. The University must carefully consider existing and prospective programs having or capable of having a critical impact on external constituencies or "stakeholders" (e.g., citizens of Iowa). In this assessment, impact on the state is at least as important to consider as impact upon the region and nation. While this criterion should not override the quality of teaching and research in the program or its centrality of the University mission and Strategic Plan, programs that make extremely important contributions to the state should be given special credit on that basis.
The primary indicators of external impact are (1) the availability of comparable programs at other colleges and universities in the state, and (2) the existing or potential contribution to the state and nation based on the skills and educational backgrounds required in the workforce of the future. Governmental agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor, have projections regarding future workforce needs. These projections ought to be consulted when this criterion is assessed.
Cost. The cost of a program is important primarily if it is deficient in quality and a decision must be made about whether or not to devote the resources necessary to improve it. Except in extraordinary circumstances, programs high in quality and centrality would be maintained or strengthened regardless of their cost. The same can be said of programs high in both quality and external impact but low in centrality. In other words, if a program is high in quality and is either central to the University's goals or has high external impact, cost criteria are relevant primarily to a decision on whether to strengthen or maintain the program.
Major indicators of cost include: (1) expenditures per credit hour, (2) FTE faculty on state funds per major and per total enrollment, (3) FTE Staff (P and S, Merit) on state funds per FTE faculty, (4) percentage of program funds derived from the general fund.


In the course of considering program reductions, two principles are particularly important. The first is to minimize the impact on students of a program reduction by ensuring that all students enrolled in the program can complete their degrees on schedule. The second is to respect the concept of academic freedom. Student impact is also important to consider in the case of program enhancements.

Summary and Conclusion

Six criteria for evaluating both academic and nonacademic programs at the University of Iowa are identified and discussed: Quality; Centrality; Student Demand; Potential for Excellence; External Impact, and Cost. Quality and centrality are primary criteria; the other four are secondary. Application of these criteria would lead to one of four strategic programmatic decisions: Strengthen; Maintain; Downsize; or Phase Out.
A two-part program evaluation process is envisioned. Quality and centrality will be evaluated first. Then, secondary criteria will be used to determine whether the strategic implication of the initial quality/centrality assessment should be adjusted upward or downward. The secondary criteria could also permit distinctions among programs evaluated similarly in terms of quality and centrality. Overall, we expect these six criteria, if applied judiciously, to promote the selective strengthening and selective trimming necessary to improve the overall quality of the University in the next few years.
These criteria will be used in the interim by the Steering Group and first level planning units (VP offices, colleges, administrative units) to identify and make decisions on a select set of programs during Fall 1991. Return to Environmental Assessment Table of Contents

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Last updated on July 17, 1995 by Campus Communications