NDSU seeks faculty, staff input on academic prioritization
Some suggestions include minimum enrollment requirements for classes, determining expectations for full-time faculty with more emphasis on teaching, expanding online offerings and reducing tuition waivers.
FARGO — North Dakota State University is gathering input from faculty and staff on how to prioritize its academic programs, potentially leading to more online and hybrid degrees, expectations for full-time professors and setting minimum enrollment requirements for classes.
NDSU’s Phase II Budget Reduction Committee held forums Friday to gather input about how the school can be more efficient in offering education to students, Provost Margaret Fitzgerald said Monday, Nov. 22, in a phone interview with The Forum. The committee has not made recommendations on how to proceed with budgetary decisions or academic prioritization, she said.
“It’s still in the very early stages of discussion,” Fitzgerald said.
The forum was meant for internal staff and faculty and was not open to the public, NDSU spokeswoman Brynn Rawlings told The Forum when requests were made to attend the meeting. More forums are expected, but those dates had not been announced as of Monday.
The forums are a part of talks that started in January. NDSU hired Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group to assess its academic program prioritization.
A 206-page document highlighted multiple changes NDSU could take to “optimize academic resources.” Some immediate recommendations include increasing class sizes when possible, limiting low-enrollment courses, and merging or closing redundant courses and sections, the report said.
President Dean Bresciani laid out in a campus update last month some action items that could be pursued. He listed evaluating academic offerings; creating online and hybrid degree programs, department and college mergers; pursuing shared services; implementing minimum course and section size policies; evaluating full-time faculty expectations with attention to instructional capacity; and reducing tuition waivers.
Declining enrollment has meant less money for NDSU over recent years. The university dropped to 12,461 students this fall, which is down about 3% from 2020 and 15.5% from 2014, when it hit its record enrollment of 14,747 students.
That caused a deficit of $3.6 million this year, or about 2.9% of the school's base appropriated budget, Bresciani said. NDSU decided to cut 1.45% of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, with each division deciding how to do so by Jan. 31, according to the update. The plans will be implemented July 1, Fitzgerald said.
The remaining deficit will be balanced with NDSU’s reserve funds, Bresciani said.
“Unfortunately, the use of reserves will be a one-time fix, which merely delays the impact of the second cut,” he said in the update. “However, instead of simply imposing the same amount of budget cut next year, we have the unique opportunity to resolve the remaining deficit through the academic prioritization process described below.”
The Huron report discusses redirecting efforts toward instruction, which may reduce the need for adjunct and part-time faculty to “fill the gaps in teaching obligations,” the report said. However, that would also mean less time would be spent on non-teaching activities, such as research, the report said.
Of the 616 full-time faculty, 275 professors, or 45% have research expectations that exceed 40%, the report said. NDSU spent less in fiscal year 2019 on instruction and academic support per full-time student than regional competitors and more on research and services, the report said.
The problem of fewer high school students graduating across the U.S. is expected to worsen after 2026, Bresciani pointed out in his update. High school graduation could climb in North Dakota through the early 2030s, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Still, NDSU faces challenges felt nationally by public universities and colleges, particularly in other schools across the region becoming more competitive in recruiting students.
The school has to retain as many North Dakotan high schoolers as possible, retrain nontraditional students to learn new skills that will keep them in the state, and recruit out-of-state students, Bresciani said in the update. NDSU needs to be the first choice in the region, he said.
“In order to achieve the goals outlined above while confronting these issues, NDSU must supplement its strong residential-based educational model with select high-quality, high-demand online and hybrid educational degree programs, including micro credentials and stackable degree options,” Bresciani said.
NDSU has identified programs that have the potential to grow because of student demand, such as nursing, marketing and management, computer science, and human development and family science, a 191-page document on the proposed budget for 2021-2022 said in July. The university also plans to continue its efforts in pursuing external funding for research and creative activities.
The university recently received a $450,000 donation to launch several online programs, Fitzgerald noted. It also has a program that lets students who left the university early know how close they were to obtaining a degree. That way the school can give them advice on how to finish their work to graduate, she said.
Recommendations regarding academic prioritization are expected in the spring, Fitzgerald said. The school is well-positioned to be thoughtful and creative in its educational offerings.
It also is trying to be as transparent as possible with staff and faculty, which is why it hasn’t made any decisions before having campus discussions about the proposals, Bresciani said.
“We are trying to be very thoughtful in how we position ourselves in the future,” Fitzgerald said.
Messages left for NDSU Faculty Senate President Florin Salajan were not returned Monday.