On Friday, Provost David H. Perrin sat down with the Campus Weekly editor for an interview that touched on the academic program review process and more. The university APR committee is scheduled to release its results within days.
Provost Perrin, I think Academic Program Review and also rising tuition costs are on many people’s minds at the moment.
This will be the first time in anyone’s memory UNCG has undergone a full academic program review. I’ve heard that said more than once. At this point in the process, your thoughts on what will be achieved? And why this has been needed?
Well, we have for many years had departmental reviews on a five to seven year rotating basis, but we have never simultaneously reviewed every single program on the campus, which is what we’re doing in this process.
We’re making great progress. The University Program Review Committee is approaching the end of its work. And I think that, as I said at the beginning of this process, it’s going to be as helpful in identifying our real strengths as it is programs that might be candidates for curtailment or discontinuation.
So I think what the product of this process and this work will be is to categorize programs into one of three general areas: One would be those that would be candidates for discontinuation. Those that really represent real strengths and would be candidates for additional resources as they become available. And it probably will help us identify those programs that require further review and study before any decisions can be made. Now there will be many programs that won’t fall into any of those three categories. That’s what I think. Certainly the recommendations that I formulate for the chancellor will take that approach. And I think her decisions will be basically in those three areas.
The University Academic Program Review committee is on schedule, I understand. What can the university anticipate receiving from them?
The University Program Review Committee is scheduled to complete its work by the end of the month or very early in March. And their report will be posted on the Academic Program Review web site. It will be accessible to anyone at the university who has a username and a password. And the chair of the committee will then visit various groups to share the report of the committee. He will be visiting, for example, the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate, the Student Government Association, Graduate Student Council, Deans Council and sharing the findings and recommendations of the committee.
There will be a period when the university committee in each of those groups can formally submit responses to the report through the Office of Institutional Research. I will, in April, be getting around to visit with each of those groups to listen to their suggestions and feedback on the committee’s report. And then at the General Faculty meeting on, I believe, April 25, I will share with the faculty what my recommendations will be to the chancellor. And she will, in early May, make her decisions. And then at the May Board of Trustees meeting, I will be presenting a final summary of the process and the recommendations and the chancellor’s decisions as a result of the process.
It has been a lengthy process. It’s been a difficult process. I think if one compares the extent to which we’ve engaged our faculty, staff and students in the process in comparison to several of our sister institutions, one would find a very collaborative process here. We’ve had far more engagement of faculty, staff and students than the other campuses have. But it’s been difficult. I think it’s a process we need to finish this academic year. Make our decisions. And move on from here.
I think it’s a process that’s going to serve us very well moving forward in this economic environment. We can convey, with confidence, to the Board of Governors and to the General Assembly that as a university community we have taken this process very seriously, and we have very thoughtfully reviewed our programs with an eye toward greater efficiency and more focused approach to the allocation of our resources. And that’s going to serve us well.
I believe, before the process even got out of the academic units, we had identified 30 or 31 programs for discontinuation —
30 – 31?
Yeah, and that’s voluntarily done within the academic units. And, again, that’s going to be a very important message to be able to take external to the university: that we’ve done this the right way, and very seriously.
If I can move to another topic that is on people’s minds, that’s tuition increases for next year. I understand you were in Chapel Hill when President Ross presented his parameters regarding his proposal on campuses’ tuition rates. The Board of Governors has approved this proposal. What can you share about this topic of tuition costs?
Well let me say that the original proposal that was formulated by the [UNCG] Tuition Committee, which this year for the first time was co-chaired by the president of the Student Government Association along with the vice provost, was formulated based on guidelines we had received from General Administration that really provided three options or three opportunities: The first was the increase that would fall under the 6.5 percent ceiling, which is kind of what we’ve been asked to do for several years. However, it also included the possibility for an increase for campuses that could demonstrate unmet need – and who can’t demonstrate unmet need in this budget environment? – a proposal higher than 6.5 percent.
And then it provided the opportunity for what GA was calling a “catch-up” plan, which could provide the campus the chance to ask for an even greater increase over a period of multiple years, three or four or five years, to bring the campus more in line with the tuition levels of our peer institutions.
So given that guidance, the Tuition Committee proposed an increase of 10 percent next year, and the possibility of up to 10 percent in the three or four subsequent years.
Did UNCG get that?
Each of the campuses submitted their proposals to General Administration. And I think that the president began to receive a lot of feedback that these were too high. And in fact my understanding is that 20 former members of the Board of Governors wrote the current members of the Board of Governors to express their concern over increases of this magnitude. So as a compromise President Ross reduced each campus’ request so that their combined tuition and fees request would be under 10 percent.
So our request was reduced from 10 percent to 7 ½ percent, but it wasn’t actually that percentage because that percentage included some fees as well as the tuition. In the final analysis, our request was reduced by 20 dollars [for an in-state undergraduate]. The original request would have generated 7.4 million dollars of new resources for the campus, and the revised proposal that President Ross submitted to the Board of Governors reduced it to essentially 7.2 million dollars. So it still is a pretty substantial amount of new resources for the campus – if it passes through the General Assembly.
UNCG is known as a great value. For example, Forbes last year put UNCG among its Top 100 Best Buy Colleges – we were number 24. With tuition rates rising, will we continue to be viewed as a great value?
We hate to raise tuition at any point, regardless of what a good deal we are, what a good bargain we are. If you look at UNCG’s 18 peer institutions, we are 19th in the cost of tuition —
We have 18 peer institutions. We’re 19th in the cost of tuition. We are well in the lowest quartile of tuition among our peer institutions as are all the campuses in the UNC system.
If you look at the average tuition cost for doctoral public universities, master’s level public universities and bachelors’ level public universities, we are less than the national average for bachelor’s [level public universities]; we are slightly less than half of the average tuition cost for doctoral-granting public universities in the country.
Our tuition is less for out-of-state students in many states around us than it would be for them to stay at home and pay in-state tuition. So we remain a very good buy for the quality of eduction that we offer here at UNCG.
That said, for what UNCG students are accustomed to paying, a tuition increase is a tuition increase. It’s not easy. But what is happening in North Carolina and all over the country is that as the appropriations from states for public higher education decreases, one of the only ways that decrease can be offset is with increases in tuition. It’s a phenomenon that’s occurring all over the country.
It really makes it all the more important for UNCG to be exploring alternative sources of revenue, which is the part that the Board of Trustees sub-committee has been working on – and presented at the last Board of Trustees meeting – to try and help us with that. But clearly it is a challenging time in public higher education all over the country, as the state support diminishes and causes universities to have to increase tuition.
Provost, as we are about to enter into the mid-point of the semester, is there anything I haven’t asked about that maybe I should?
We have made great progress on many fronts in a difficult budget year. I am very pleased with the progress we are making on the living & learning community initiative. This year, we added three or four new learning communities, and we were able to accommodate the participation of I think 450 freshmen. I have proposals for four or five additional living & learning communities next year — and we think that will bring us up to a level of being able to provide learning community opportunity for up to 50 percent of our freshman class, which is terrific.
Fifty percent at what time?
That will be starting for incoming full-time first-semester freshmen.
Yes, and this is very important because North Carolina is making a transition, I believe, from an enrollment growth model of funding higher education to a performance model of funding higher education. And we know that students that are engaged in our living & learning communities when matched against equally academically prepared fellow students are retained at a rate of 10 percentage points higher than students that are not engaged in living & learning communities. And so as the state makes this transition to a performance model of funding, which essentially means performance in retention and graduation, this is going to be a very, very important initiative for us in terms of gaining new resources from the state.
So, we’ve made great progress on that front.
Interviewed by Mike Harris
Photograph by Chris English