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A WVU student walks across a pedestrian bridge on University Avenue on Oct. 14, 2020.

West Virginia University administrators announced at Friday’s Board of Governors meeting that they will conduct a data-driven review of academic programs for the long-term financial stability of the school.

President E. Gordon Gee said the review was driven by years-long trends in the academic marketplace and fundamental changes to the University’s business model from state-funded to tuition-funded. Over the coming months, University administrators will gather data on the financial performance of academic programs and determine whether they should continue.

“The fog of fear is our greatest enemy,” Gee said. “If we want to be a competent, progressive institution, the time to move is now.”

He also said that in the past, the University has been too light on the use of data and analytics to drive decision making.

Academic programs and majors will be measured based on enrollment trends for graduates of the program, the success of students within it and research dollars generated. Provost Maryanne Reed said the University will also look to peer institutions and job data. The exact sources of the data and the best process to be used in a review of this magnitude are still being determined, she said.

Over the last six years, decreased state appropriations have coincided with more competition for fewer students and their dollars, according to Gee. The review’s aim is to help the University compete in this new market.

These trends are unlikely to change and the University must adapt accordingly, said Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop. He said the school has cut costs in recent years to meet yearly budget goals, but this has been detrimental to the long-term health of the school.

“Quite simply, our margins have not been where they need to be and we need to fix that,” Alsop said. “All of these things lead to one conclusion. Our business model has changed.”

Alsop said he will oversee the review of a possible expansion of work-at-home, the update of outdated technologies and other changes on the business side of the University.

On the academic front, the Provost’s Office will look critically at academic programs and determine their financial viability. Reed said they plan to present initial proposals by the end of the spring 2021 semester.

This process will seek to improve student success and retention as well as cut deficits, Reed said. This could lead to the creation of new academic programs and majors as well as the elimination of others.

Academic programs could also be merged, and Reed said they will look to standardize teaching assignments across class sections. Additionally, the University administrators will look to reward faculty for cross-discipline collaboration and retain highly productive faculty.

Friday’s announcement marks an accelerated step in a years-long move to contend with changing market forces within higher education. Since 2017, the University has gotten rid of 59 academic programs and majors and implemented a yearly review that requires each academic program to prove its financial viability.

“The campus has not been engaged in an effort like this, certainly in the magnitude and the scope, as long as I can remember and I’ve been at the institution a very long time,” Reed said.

She acknowledged this process may be scary for faculty but said administrators will seek to engage stakeholders throughout the process.

To be successful, we will need to constantly communicate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing it,” said Reed.

Other notes from Friday’s BOG Meeting

  • Two interim appointments to the WVU Health System Board of Directors were approved. Randy Williams and Michelle Rotellini will serve as representatives from the 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts.
  • The Board issued a notice to amend BOG Rule 3.4 to comply with federal drug testing requirements.
  • Students had a larger than expected interest in online class for the spring semester according to the Provost. Reed said 67% of current enrollments are in online sections and 33% are for in-person instruction 
  • Enrollments for the spring semester are down 8%; Reed attributed this in part to registration opening two weeks later than normal.
  • Two candidates are under consideration for the Dean of the College of Law and will come to WVU for in-person interviews, Reed said. The final candidates are:
    • Amelia Rinehart, associate dean of the College of Law at the University of Utah.
    • David Mitchell, associate dean at the School of Law at the University of Missouri