USF considers terminating 17 degrees

Though this year’s state appropriations saw a restoration of cuts to the USF System, USF is taking precautionary measures in examining efficiency in the degree programs it offers.

USF has identified 17 programs to be considered for termination, adding to the 22 programs that have been terminated over the past five years.

The programs were identified as some of the 84 degree programs, 65 of which were at the Tampa campus, not meeting the threshold of productivity, defined by USF as less than 12 degrees awarded at the bachelor’s level, eight at the master’s and five at the doctoral.

Earlier this year the State University System’s (SUS) Council of Academic Vice Presidents conducted a similar audit with looser standards and identified 21 degrees performing below productivity.

Of the 84 underperforming degrees identified, only 15 are already in the process of being phased out as a part of the former USF Polytechnic’s teach-out, and two other programs — a Ph.D. in general biology and an bachelor’s degree in Honors research — have been identified for termination.

“Just because (a degree program) falls short (of the productivity threshold), we shouldn’t jump to terminate the program,” USF Provost Ralph Wilcox told a Board of Trustees Workgroup last week.

By identifying programs such as the general biology doctorate, which will be replaced by two new biology doctorate degrees, and those with limited interest such as the Honors research program which currently has no students enrolled, the university can become more efficient while continuing to add other degree programs, he said.

Graham Tobin, vice provost for Strategic and Budget Planning, who is overseeing the audit, said some faculty have been a bit concerned about the process to audit degree productivity, but said USF will take a comprehensive approach in evaluating each program.

“Understandably, there’s some concern,” he said. “We’re not just going to draw a line (and eliminate programs). There are some programs, such as at Sarasota-Manatee, that may be small but may be critical to the mission of that institution, and the same goes for St. Petersburg and the Tampa campus. But it doesn’t hurt for program chairs to look at their programs and say, ‘Hey, what are we doing here? Are we offering the right things? Are we being efficient in how we’re offering the program?’ It’s a review that’s healthy.”

Brian Lamb, a member of the Board of Trustees, said he wanted to assure the Board that the process would not include any drastic changes.

“This hasn’t been done in a vacuum,” he said. “This has been a transparent, elaborate process. … What we don’t want to be insensitive to is the faculty involved. Madame President along with the Provost will have the say at the end of the day, so there will be some seasoned judgment involved.”

Deby Cassill, a faculty liaison to the Academic and Campus Environment BOT workgroup, said as a faculty member she is “so incredibly in support of these kinds of reviews.”

“It keeps us focused on what’s best for students,” she said.

Tobin said that he believes there is still place in higher education for all fields of study.

“I think every degree can lead to productive employment,” he said. “I think we’re training students to think critically, to write, to communicate — they’re all important attributes. … It’s just some degrees have specific skills that are valued to certain employers. … There’s no simple solution. … The idea of different degree programs has changed over the years. What was being taught hundreds of years ago is a little different than what we might see now, like new ones such as cybersecurity, which is a pretty important thing at the moment.”

Wilcox said the challenge for higher education is finding the appropriate balance between effective delivery and affordability.

“At the end of the day … value is what we should be talking about in education,” he said. “At the end of the day, our students want the optimal value from their education. So what use if we cut costs so much that all of a sudden the USF degree, or for that matter, any Florida state system degree, isn’t valued?”