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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

May 21, 2004

Task forces tackle budget efficiency questions

by Anne Krapfl

Three task forces appointed last fall to study issues related to budget efficiency completed their work during the spring semester and submitted reports to vice president for academic affairs and provost Benjamin Allen. Allen and his staff are at varying stages of responding to or acting on recommendations in the reports.

The Task Force to Study Alternative Tuition Structures, facilitated by Charles Glatz, submitted its report Jan 5. The Task Force to Review Small and Interdisciplinary Degree Programs and Low Enrollment Courses, facilitated by Howard Shapiro, submitted its final report March 1. The Task Force on Centers and Institutes, facilitated by Diane Birt, submitted its final report April 1. "I commend all the committees for their work," Allen said. "They addressed the right issues - important issues to the university. And, in light of both our tight budget times and the strategic planning process that is under way, their reports give us some valuable insight into where we are and how we might improve." The full reports are available online from the Provost Office Web site (see "Documents"). Following are highlights from the three:

Small and Interdisciplinary Programs and Low-Enrollment Courses

  1. Low-enrollment courses. The task force surveyed the colleges to find out about existing policies. Generally, colleges - and departments - were found to have unwritten, but well understood, rules about minimum class size. The report notes that course sections, not simply courses, are the unit by which costs can be measured.

    The task force recommends:

    • The university set guidelines of a minimum enrollment of 15 in undergraduate courses and 8 students in graduate courses (500 level). Colleges and departments could adopt more stringent guidelines.
    • Each college curriculum committee try to identify 15 percent (a goal, not mandatory) of undergraduate and graduate sections it could combine, eliminate, offer less frequently or jointly offer among departments.
  2. Small programs. The task force identified 14 undergraduate programs (with 50 or fewer undergraduate majors in 2002-03) and 42 graduate programs (with 20 or fewer master's or Ph.D. students in 2002-03) for further review. College deans would determine the review process for programs for which they are responsible. The group did not recommend elimination of any of the programs on the lists, but drafted guidelines for use in such a review. They include questions such as:
    • Besides majors, what other groups of students take courses in the program?
    • What is the major's relationship to the university mission?
    • Is it desirable and economically feasible to increase the number of majors?
  3. Interdisciplinary programs. These programs generally are viewed as positive. The task forced noted quality and oversight are a concern, since the review structures are less formal with interdisciplinary programs. The task force recommended that more attention go to small interdisciplinary programs during regular academic program reviews.

Allen said a follow-up report on the committee's work will go to President Gregory Geoffroy by early June. He said his recommendations to the president "will lead to a process that affects how these decisions get made." Deans and the provosts have reviewed early versions of the report.

Centers and Institutes

Iowa State has 80 centers that are approved by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa (because each receives at least $25,000 in state funds annually). Nearly a third of the centers were created in the last five years. Since 1993, 19 centers have been discontinued.

The report makes a total of 19 recommendations in the areas of organizational structure, establishing and eliminating centers, reviewing centers, a cost-benefit analysis of centers and the relationship among centers and academic departments.

One recommendation is that the university develop procedures to identify the costs and benefits of centers, including a financial accounting system that provides supervisory units with the data needed to make "informed decisions." Another high-priority recommendation calls for "personnel responsibility statements" that spell out faculty responsibilities between center and home department(s).

The task force also suggested five criteria for establishing or continuing a center:

  • National or international excellence and prominence
  • Provides opportunities that traditional campus units (departments, colleges) can't provide
  • Has a clear mission that is directly tied to the university's mission
  • Has effective leadership and governance
  • Creates clear benefits that greatly exceed the costs to ISU

It further recommends that a center must score high on most or all of the attributes or be closed. It also recommends that all new centers include a five-year sunset clause. If a new center doesn't score well against the attributes after five years and no positive action is taken to make improvements, the center would close.

Allen said the task force addressed key issues thoroughly and "didn't dodge any issues." Especially helpful to writing and assessing center proposals, he noted, would be a consistent and public list of criteria against which to judge them.

He said the next step is for his office to develop a process for reviewing, discussing and refining the task force recommendations.

Alternative Tuition Structures

A Board of Regents, State of Iowa discussion about differential tuition, first scheduled for February, was canceled and rescheduled for the board's May 19 meeting. Allen said that even without a system-wide discussion or decision, tight budgets will force Iowa State leaders to regularly review university revenue streams, including options for how it assesses tuition. The task force's primary recommendation is that differential tuition options should be further considered. The potential for higher revenues exists without sacrificing the university's mission relative to student accessibility, predictability of tuition and flexibility in students' choice of study areas. Several of the options for differentiating tuition would, however, require a more sophisticated student information and tracking system.

The task force briefly looked at differentiating tuition by:
  • Institution (among the three regents universities)
  • Degree program
  • Student classification (lower division - freshmen and sophomores vs. upper division - juniors and seniors)
  • Number of credits per semester

The group used a simulation model as well as phone survey information from peer schools to assess the affects of differentiated tuition on enrollment levels, ability to put more resources into exceptional programs, ease of implementation, student perceptions of what's equitable, and changes in student financial aid needs and aid structure.


"In light of both our tight budget times and the strategic planning process that is under way, (the task forces') reports give us some valuable insight into where we are and how we might improve."

Benjamin Allen