This semester, the campus experienced its first exposure to program prioritization, an analysis of all departments and programs’ purpose and resources. Its intent, according to President Mike Beals, is to increase degree value for students.
This “deep dive” look at all programs was intended to find what was working in terms of growth–both financially and otherwise, according to Beals.
“We want your degree to have meaning and value when you come out, that people will have respect for a Vanguard degree, that you have confidence and respect in the degree that you receive,” Beals said.
Beals explained the process is a community-wide program evaluation outlined in a book called “Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services” by Robert Dickeson and is currently being adapted to many colleges and private institutions, such as BIOLA. The strategic approach, according to Beals, comes as a result of the shift in how college is viewed by potential students.
“The landscape of higher education is changing. People are concerned about the business model and the costs and they’re asking the question, ‘Is college worth it? Is the money I’m paying really producing a degree that’s worth something?’” Beals said.
Though admitting students may feel the sting of some decisions now, such as saying goodbye to professors or programs they liked, Beals said students should be reassured their university is willing to make the tough decisions proactively.
“Students can take comfort that we have the institutional will and the care and commitment to organizational health that can say, ‘Let’s do this now in a transparent way and recognized approach to it,’” Beals said.
The decision does not come as a result of financial crisis, but instead was made to avoid strain in the future and make sure the process would not be reactionary, but intentional, according to Beals.
Students have made assumptions between cuts and the new projects seen on campus. However, Beals asserted that the reprioritization of funds throughout campus is in no means related to the building of the new student center, which launched this summer. Planning for the center, Beals explained, came over a year before the strategy for reprioritization was put into place.
He continued to explain the shifts seen on campus are part of an initiative to see Vanguard prospering for decades to come in spite of the changing dynamic of higher education. He hopes making hard decisions now will help the university have an innovative and sustainable business model.
“Institutionally, if you don’t change, that’s how institutions die…and we are committed to sustainability and quality while being utterly on mission,” Beals said.
By staying on mission, Beals envisions an institution that is student-serving, faith-based, and focused on professor-student relationships. He explained that as prioritization proceeds, the school must consider how each program affects these concepts.
And though some programs were cut during the prioritization process, Beals does not believe this necessarily means their permanent termination, explaining there are life cycles as departments grow and shrink depending on enrollment and students’ interest. He gave the Performing Arts Ministry Teams as a prime example of this.
“When I came as a dean in 2012, [PAMT] had been suspended for a couple years. When I was here, it came back. When it comes to prioritization, we have to ask the question, ‘Do we give resources to academic departments or performing arts ministries?’ It doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. Consider it suspended again,” Beals said.
As cuts occur, they are balanced with growth as new departments are formed to meet student needs, Beals explained. New academic programs, such as the nursing program, is a reflection of this, according to Beals.
This can be seen in the opening of the nursing undergraduate major this fall. Because there is a projected shortage of nurses, there are more students looking for these programs. Therefore, Beals said, Vanguard does environmental scans of students to find and meet these needs.
The decisions regarding prioritization was a campus-wide effort involving all departments and levels of administration, according to Beals. Though some choices were difficult, he has confidence they were made in good faith to improve sustainability and keep the university pursuing its mission.
Details of the process included departments prioritizing their own resources and programs, determining which needed funding to be increased, remain the same, potentially restructured, reduced, or phased out. These reports were then given to the cabinet, consisting of the vice presidents, who made recommendations to Beals.
Recommendations for program prioritization came from both the cabinet and individual departments, but ultimately the final call was made by Beals, who stands by the choices.
“Now final decisions, I own the final decisions,” Beals said.
Though changes in academic life may be the most visible to students, these departments were not the only ones to undergo reprioritization. Student Life, administrative departments, and the Office of the President all underwent the same measures as the academic houses, Beals explained.
Furthermore, he clarified that reducing funding for shrinking programs would allow more resources for new or growing programs. These decisions were based on years of data and did not include programs that had only started in the last year, he stated.
Through the process, Beals anticipates growth to come and the long-term benefit for students, even if that means difficult choices being made now. However, he does have hope that prioritization will affect Vanguard positively to stay on mission and focused on its students.
“I’m committed to just and sustainable systems that distribute student aid and resources that really helps students thrive,” Beals said.