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An update on prioritization

Beryl Brubaker Beryl Brubaker, provost

The P word, or “prioritization,” became a household term at Eastern Mennonite University during the past year and a half.

Readers may remember the “Quality of Soul” article in the summer 2005 issue of Crossroads. The article highlighted EMU’s continuing efforts to maintain a distinctive ethos arising out of our Anabaptist Mennonite tradition while prioritizing programs and services and reallocating funds to ensure financial sustainability. The article described a year-long process to evaluate all EMU programs and services and make recommendations for change.

In the end we wrote 75 recommendations to increase revenue, manage costs, reallocate resources and change structures. At some stage in the process, we faced a major decision. Shall we make drastic changes within a short time frame so we can “get it over with,” or shall we adopt a gradual strategy that would put in place some very deliberate goals and strategies for long-term change? We opted for the gradual approach – evolution, rather than revolution.

Focus on Learning

Learning is at the heart of an educational institution. Organizationally, we want to be about learning as well. That means becoming an organization that is constantly improving itself, that uses peer benchmarks to evaluate itself, that shares responsibility across the institution to achieve results and that emphasizes accountability at all levels. We are building on the evaluation systems we created to accomplish these goals.

Two findings stood out in analysis of our finances. First, EMU spends a greater portion of its resources on instruction than comparable institutions and less on institutional support. This is a good thing up to a point, but beyond that it becomes difficult to support the educational program with the many services needed. So our recommendations include items such as reallocating funds to pay the ongoing costs of renewal and replacement for facilities and equipment (depreciation), providing administrative support for human resources and increasing staff development funds.

Second, increasing complexity and a low ratio of students to faculty are taxing our financial resources. With an enrollment of just over 1,600 students, we support an undergraduate program, four graduate programs, a seminary, an adult degree completion program, a pre-college intensive English program, off-campus programs, plus a variety of programs that serve our community – for instance, a radio station.

To better serve our people, we set new goals for student-faculty ratios that will allow us to improve remuneration of faculty and staff. The Board of Trustees set a goal of remuneration at the national median of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Increasing Enrollment

To support EMU’s complex mixture of programs, we are taking new steps to increase undergraduate enrollment and improve the financial picture of the graduate and seminary programs. Consultation by Noel-Levitz, a well–known enrollment consulting firm, is under way.

Each graduate program is expected to contribute 20 percent of its total revenue to the university by fall 2009, and the seminary is to contribute 15 percent. To do this, programs will need to adjust studentfaculty ratios, increase revenues and decrease costs.

While we are discontinuing selected programs – including the German and economic development majors and minors, the marketing minor and the international agricultural major – in most cases faculty are creatively modifying existing programs in order to maintain our strengths and serve our students. For instance, German courses will run according to student interest, development is a theme in our economics major and a sustainable agriculture track has been created in the environmental science major.

At the same time, these and other changes have resulted in fewer courses in order to save costs.

Adding New Programs

Prioritization provided opportunity to dream about new programs as well. Along with merging our art and communications departments, we are adding new majors in digital media and photography . To strengthen the sustainability of our MBA program, we are launching a health services administration track and certificate that will have an Anabaptist emphasis and serve Mennonite institutions through online delivery.

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Perhaps the most controversial recommendations are to decrease the subsidy of WEMC to zero over the next several years and to base cost of living salary increases on reaching enrollment goals. With the latter recommendation, we recognize that enrollment is the job of everyone on campus.

In regard to changing structures, President Swartzendruber has appointed an Academic Structure Task Force. Among the questions the task force will address is the possibility of reorganizing the undergraduate departments into larger units for more effective decision-making.

Monitoring change, ensuring financial sustainability, strengthening programs – these are the challenges we will embrace in 2006-07.

Beryl H. Brubaker (C 64) is academic provost at EMU.