Issue 6News

Program Review signals larger financial turmoil at Puget Sound

By Albert Chang-Yoo

  The University of Puget Sound is undergoing a Comprehensive Academic, Administrative, & Auxiliary Program Review, a committee that began in Fall 2021 and will evaluate every academic department and program, non-academic revenue center (e.g. dining services), academic service center, and administrative service center. The full list can be found on the University’s website.  

  There are about 40 members on the Program Review Steering Committee representing Faculty, Staff, the Board of Trustees, Students, and Alumni. The University also hired Stevens Strategy, a higher education strategic consulting firm, to help with committee review. The review was first approved by the University in June 2021, with final recommendations expected by October 2022. According to the Board of Trustees, the initiative serves “to move the university toward an optimized program mix, enrollment stability, and financial sustainability.”

   Monica DeHart is a professor of Anthropology and the Director of Global Studies. She is also the chair of the Mission-Centeredness subcommittee, one of the five subcommittees that comprise the Program Review.  “The comprehensive review, in general, is trying to get a sort of a diagnostic of the university to understand how to deal with the short term crises that are both pandemic related and enrollment-related…but also to think about the long term, where we want to go and what we want to be,” said Professor DeHart.
  Over the course of a decade, the University witnessed about a 25% decline in enrollment. In the Fall of 2020, there were 2,130 total enrolled students and a 76% retention rate among first-year students, significantly less than the Fall of 2015, when the University had an 86% retention rate and a total of 2,774 students. While the University took a major hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic (reflecting a nationwide trend), they have dealt with under-enrollment since 2012, when enrollment was at about 2,853 students. 

  The committee evaluates programs based on quality, marketability, and financial cost. These factors are determined by thorough data collection from each department or center. Professor DeHart emphasized that data is analyzed through a holistic view: “the work we’re doing allows us to think about what are some strategic directions that we want our campus to go in terms of our whole academic programming, and how each of our individual majors or departments fits into that.”

  Annie Sullivan, third-year and the sole student representative on the Program Review Committee believes that the review is a worthwhile venture. “I mean, our students are spending so much to be here. And so I think having people look critically at, you know, the cost of tuition is like $72,000, or whatever it is, how can we take this money and give students the best experience possible?” she said. 

  Sullivan acknowledges the pressure of being the only student rep: “I was kind of nervous about what kind of contribution I would be able to make as the only student.” However, she still feels that students are well-represented in the process. Student data and opinions have been collected from sources such as climate, diversity surveys and class evaluations. “I almost felt like that was a better representation than I could have given,” she said. 

  The program review could help make University programs more coordinated. Sullivan cited advising as an example: “We have so many different departments working on advising. And so that would be a situation where all of these different departments are understaffed, underfunded, but are all doing the same thing.” The committee has the potential to increase communication between departments to reduce redundancies.  

  As each department is evaluated, faculty and staff are under the looming cloud of restructuring or possible budget cuts. Professor DeHart wanted to make it clear that the objective of the steering committee is not to strain faculty. The purpose of the committee is to think strategically about the long-term. “And that does mean resources go one direction and not another. But the goal is not to look at small versus large programs and decide which to cut,” Professor DeHart said.

  Sara Freeman is a professor in the theater department and the chair of the subcommittee heading data/finance. Professor Freeman recognized that faculty may have concerns and she also shared their worries. “It’s very scary to undertake processes of organizational self-evaluation and change…but I don’t know how individuals don’t keep prospering if they don’t undertake self-evaluation and change– and it’s the same for organizations. So I don’t think not doing it would help us either,” Professor Freeman stated. 

  For Professor Freeman, it’s important that the University considers its sustainability: “The pandemic helps us see that this is the end of one type of era. And we’re definitely– it feels like there are some new forces gathering. What are those going to be? What is that arc for, you know, 15, 20, 25 years? And I think we’re still figuring that out.”