UNO panel releases scorecard on how academic programs are doing _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Students Ray Shall, Barrett Gale and Benjamin Pridgen visit on the quad between classes at the University of New Orleans.

A working group of faculty at the University of New Orleans has released an initial scorecard that evaluates the school’s 80 degree programs on criteria including student demand, size, graduation rate, tuition revenue from students and whether it’s an area central to UNO’s core mission.

Programs that receive top marks include undergraduate programs in biological sciences, psychology, mechanical engineering, and hotel, restaurant and tourism administration.

Among those at the bottom of the ranks are undergraduate offerings in secondary teaching and early childhood education, as well as a master’s degree in engineering management and financial economics, according to an update released by UNO this week.

The group of about 25 members — including the deans of UNO’s five academic colleges and library, as well as faculty leaders — first decided on the criteria for evaluating the degree programs, and now it must make recommendations on which programs best fit with the university’s long-term direction.

The review includes examining a program’s relevance and significance to UNO’s focus as an urban research institution, its impact on UNO as a whole and the level of research conducted by each department.

Demand was measured by considering how many students were in the major, trends in academia, the number of students who graduate from the program and the general outlook among committee members on the program’s projected future enrollment. Different criteria were used to evaluate bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.

The group, known as the Faculty Governance Committee, plans to use the data as one factor in determining whether programs should be enhanced with additional funding, restructured or eliminated.

In an interview Tuesday, Matthew Tarr, a UNO professor who chairs the committee, stressed that the ranking are just one piece of the overall analysis. The committee is accepting comments from faculty through Monday and plans to submit its recommendations to UNO President Peter Fos by Nov. 7, he said.

“We’ve done this very carefully, very systematically and as openly as possible,” Tarr said.

He said the criteria used to evaluate the programs were developed in large part from ideas borrowed from other schools that have undergone restructuring, including the University of Alaska at Anchorage and Indiana State University.

“Our charge is much broader than cutting programs. Our charge is to evaluate the current set of programs and to make recommendations on what programs will best serve the university and its constituents into the future,” he said.

Both Tarr and Pamela Jenkins, a UNO sociology professor and president of the Faculty Senate, cautioned against reading too much into the list.

Tarr said it is “not really a judgment based” on where a program falls in the ranking but “an indication based on the six criteria on how the program has performed in the past and our estimate on how it will perform in the future.”

Some programs near the bottom are those that typically suffer from low enrollment, he acknowledged, but he stressed that such a factor is not necessarily a death sentence for the programs. He also acknowledged that it’s “much harder to connect liberal arts majors to a specific job,” which can make those programs somewhat harder to evaluate.

The committee’s recommendations will include enhancing programs that are kept, restructuring programs that are needed but performing below expectation, and closing some programs. The committee plans to distribute a written report when its analysis is finished.

Fos has said previously that layoffs are likely to follow those recommendations, which he said will seek to identify and build on the university’s strengths.

UNO has struggled in recent years with deep cuts in state spending for higher education and an enrollment that has fallen sharply over the past decade. Fos has cut more than 110 positions — the school had about 1,850 full- and part-time staff as of last fall — since taking the helm in January 2012. He said he has looked for ways to bring costs in line with what an institution of UNO’s reduced size can afford.

Faculty and students will know if their programs are being cut by the beginning of the spring semester, Fos said. Any changes will take effect during the spring 2016 semester.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.