Kansas Board of Regents evaluating action plans for underperforming university programs

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TOPEKA — Jewish studies, philosophy, geography, physics: The Kansas Board of Regents is in the process of determining which underperforming programs at state universities will be chopped and which will be subjected to progress reviews.

Last summer, KBOR research identified undergraduate programs that were more than five years old and did not meet two or more of the board’s metrics for the six state universities.

Standards included having 25 or more students enrolled in the program, producing 10 or more graduates from the program, having 51% or more of graduates working in the region after graduation and student return on investment. That return is evaluated by having a salary of $38,050 or higher, a number determined by the five-year, post-graduation median salary for 2022.

The metrics placed 31 programs at risk. Schools with underperforming programs have three options: axe the program, merge the program with another program in a cost-effective way, or make an action plan to boost metrics within three years.

Under review at the University of Kansas 

Programs reviewed: 11

Action plans: Bachelor of General Studies/Arts in African & African-American Studies, Bachelor of General Studies/Arts in American Studies, Bachelor of Arts in Global International Studies, Bachelor of General Studies/Arts in Religious Studies, Bachelor of Arts in Jewish Studies, Bachelor of Arts/Science in Astronomy, Bachelor of Science in Atmospheric Science, Bachelor of General Studies/Arts/Science Geography, Music program classified as Bachelor of Music or Bachelor of Fine Arts/Arts in Music, Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics

Merge: Bachelor of Secondary Ed in Physical Ed Plus

On Tuesday, regents on the Board Academic Affairs Standing Committee reviewed program recommendations, the final step before plans go before the full board later this month.

Regent Alysia Johnston said curriculum dealing with identity is important, but performance has to be a factor.

“I think that that’s important as well,” Johnston said. “But I still am sticking to the fact that I believe some of these things, if we’re not meeting three of the four targets, then we’ve got to be able to do something to act, move forward in terms of how we are going to get this on track.”

Earlier this year, regents members discussed the impact of several of these programs, such as Jewish studies and African studies, which offer rigorous research and opportunities but appear to be underperforming by KBOR metrics.

“I don’t want to see those courses go away completely,” said regent Diana Mendoza. “I think they’re valuable, I think we need to continue to offer those opportunities to students, but I also feel like we need to be efficient in the way that we allocate our resources.” 

The University of Kansas has the most programs impacted, with 11 under review, 10 of which the university recommended for action and one recommended to merge.

According to the University of Kansas action plan, Jewish studies allows students to participate in influential research, including through The Druze Studies Project, a digital humanities program for studying Druze culture, literature, and history.

Students have received research scholarships and were given the opportunity to write journal articles. The program hosted a “Druze Studies” symposium last year with 25 international scholars attending, another valuable experience, the university’s plan said.

“One of these students is currently in the process of writing a research article as a follow-up to this event, a testament to the lasting impact of their involvement,” the university argued in defense of the program. “This experience has also opened doors for him in the academic publishing landscape, as he was recently hired as the assistant to the editor of the new Druze Studies Journal.”

Emporia State University reviewed two programs. The institution already has phased out or merged 20% of programs following the KBOR-sanctioned decision in 2022 to fire tenured faculty members, and eliminate programs without explanation for which ones were targeted.

An American Association of University Professors investigation later concluded the actions taken by ESU president Ken Hush with regents support were little more than an attack on academic freedom. The investigation concluded university administrators and Kansas Board of Regents members are “unfit to lead.

Under review: Other universities

Pittsburg State University

Programs reviewed: Six

Action plans: Bachelor of Science in Math, Bachelor of Science in History, Bachelor of Science in Polymer Chemistry, Bachelor of Science in Physics, Bachelor of Music 

Phase-out: International Business Bachelor of Business Administration

Kansas State University

Programs reviewed: Two

Action plan: Bachelor of Arts/Science in Geography, Bachelor of Arts in Music/Bachelor of Music program

Emporia State University

Programs reviewed: Two

Phase-out: Bachelor of Science in Education for Business Education 

Action plan: Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts 

Wichita State University

Programs reviewed: Five

Action plan: Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Bachelor of Arts/Science in Geology, Bachelor of Arts/Science in Physics, Bachelor of Science in Forensic Sciences

Merge: Bachelor of Arts in Women’s, Ethnicity, & Intersectional Studies

Fort Hays State University

Programs reviewed: Five

Action plan: Bachelor of Music in Music Education, Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Language: Spanish, Bachelor of Arts/Science in Physics and Bachelor of Arts in Music 

Merge: Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy 

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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