Guiding Principles

The Academic Program Prioritization action group worked to develop a broad set of guiding principles by which all academic programs would be evaluated, looking for opportunities for growth, consolidation, or elimination.

The work of the Academic Program Prioritization (APP) action group focused on the Appropriate Size goal of the Ithaca Forever Strategic Plan: to determine and maintain an appropriate and sustainable size for programs and structures, and their associated resources, at every level of the institution by developing a coordinated, college-level process of assessment and review of academic units. Specifically, the APP action group worked to develop a broad set of guiding principles by which all academic programs would be evaluated, looking for opportunities for growth, consolidation, or elimination.

The APP action group was charged with its work prior to the onset of COVID-19, independent of any FY21 budget issues or shortfalls. Its charge related to setting up guidelines for IC’s long-term response and adaptations (on the academic side) to progressively declining enrollment and aligning Ithaca College with the realities of the changing landscape for higher education. The ongoing impact and uncertainty created by COVID-19 both accelerated and complicated the work of the APP action group. For example, despite consistent reminders that the work of this group began prior to the pandemic, and that enrollment had declined progressively at IC over the last five years, faculty feedback to the APP action group was, in part, to slow the process down and to avoid making long-term decisions during a crisis. It was for reasons like these that the action group repeatedly asked for and was granted additional time in order to expand the number and form of opportunities to solicit feedback from the faculty. The timeline and activity of the APP action group’s work illustrates the number of times and myriad ways in which we solicited feedback from faculty. Data collection via surveys also included the opportunity to provide narrative comments as well. 

These principles are intended to provide guidance to the Provost as she completes the work of APP. The process we implemented was inclusive and engaging of as many faculty as could come to the table during a particularly busy and stressful period of time. In addition to discussions about the principles themselves, the action group fielded frequent questions about the process itself: when would it begin, how would it be structured and implemented, and most significantly: would faculty have a voice, was there a way that faculty could be involved in the discussions leading up to the decision-making, etc. As mentioned in the APP action group’s progress report, faculty engagement in this process grew exponentially once it began. This remained consistent throughout the full spectrum of faculty feedback and Q&A sessions, including ALL Faculty meetings hosted by Provost Cornish. In this report, we are providing an expanded discussion of the guiding principles by which APP may be conducted, as well as our general recommendations as a result of this work.

Expanded Discussion of the Guiding Principles for Academic Program Prioritization

Taken individually, many of the drafted principles address issues of efficiency and may guide decisions about how Ithaca College might save money. However, collectively they should help guide decisions on how to re-imagine Ithaca College as a resilient institution in the shifting landscape of higher education. Borrowing language from our Environmental Science colleagues:

Research suggests that the long-term health and persistence of a complex system, such as Ithaca College, requires resilience, not efficiency (e.g., Ostrom, 2005). Efficiency is achieved by eliminating redundancies and maximizing use of all available resources — which even at its most well-intentioned, reduces both diversity and flexibility. A shift to “efficiency” will create an Ithaca College that can function only under a set of very specific and predictable conditions. At this point, however, clearly defined and predictable conditions no longer exist. If Ithaca College is to survive, it will require maximum resilience in order to adapt to stressors that we haven’t even thought of yet. Instead, we need resilient, diverse programs that optimize faculty/staff/administrative time and resources and that allow for changes in demand over time.

As part of our suggestions for implementation we offer here an expanded discussion of each principle.

PRINCIPLE: Maintain a full-time faculty in right proportion to the student population

The student/faculty mentoring relationship and a student-centered classroom experience is at the center of a high-quality educational experience and Ithaca College’s identity. In order to manage faculty salary expenses, the college needs to establish and maintain a sustainable average student-to-faculty ratio. School or program ratios may vary from the average.

Managing a student-to-faculty ratio that is slightly higher than our current one results in clear monetary savings. A ratio of 11.5:1 or 12:1 would have a significant and positive impact on the budget. We had to remind faculty that this ratio is a college-wide calculation and that not every school or every department would be held to the same ratio. This was clearly an issue with programs that, according to discipline-specific pedagogical approaches, offer 1:1 instruction or have small class sizes.

PRINCIPLE: Distribute faculty workload equitably

Equity is a core value, and we should determine an equitable workload within schools and between schools, weighing teaching, service and scholarship and understanding different workload requirements associated with different pedagogical approaches and degree programs.

Equitable workload distribution was a significant issue in our discussion given the inequity of workload between schools, between programs, and between faculty in similar positions. This principle raises issues related to flexible workload and how that might be applied equitably. One solution may be to define a minimum course load for all faculty in all schools, keeping in mind accreditation requirements in some programs.

This principle may also inspire further review of faculty release time and overload policies. For example, one solution may be to deny overloads to faculty that have release time.

PRINCIPLE: Preserve IC’s long-term capacity to recruit and retain a quality, diverse faculty

Faculty quality determines in large part the college’s ability to recruit a diverse, academically excellent student body and fulfill the educational mission of the college. In order to preserve IC’s long-term capacity to recruit and retain faculty, no tenured, tenure-eligible or program-reliant NTEN faculty should be cut during the academic program prioritization process.

Although some faculty wish to protect their contingent and non-tenure track faculty colleagues, the committee finds that the hierarchical tenure system allows for resiliency in times of economic stress and that it protects the college’s ability to continue to recruit and retain new faculty. Maintaining a certain percentage of assistant professors in relation to the faculty body as a whole may help guide the implementation of this principle.

This principle is also connected to the previous one; if workload is excessive or inequitable, we will not be able to recruit and retain faculty.

PRINCIPLE: Preserve IC’s long-term capacity to recruit and retain a quality, diverse student body

Support recruitment efforts, and grow culturally responsive, high-quality programs that are in high demand. See:

Students are always at the center of our mission and ensuring the ability to recruit and retain a quality, diverse student body is obvious. Our Environmental Science colleagues write, “Ithaca College will have to be different, yes, but we need to focus these changes on improving our strengths — increasing our ability to be responsive to change in the world and increasing our students’ sense of connection to their mentors (academic and co-curricular alike).”

Many faculty were unfamiliar with the term “culturally responsive” and this indicates that we may need further development in this area of curriculum and program design.

PRINCIPLE: Optimize the value of academic programs

Programs should contribute to the strategic plan, with those aligned with mission, values, and strategic objectives receiving priority. Consequently, program prioritization should consider the value of programs according to their ability to grow by attracting, retaining, and graduating successful students with a curriculum that is diverse, inclusive, rigorous, and demonstrably excellent. High value can be defined in numerous ways, including a prominent identity, a rich history, and those that make us unique. Valuable programs are not only those with high profile graduates, but also those that enable the college to deliver the core curriculum.

“Value” is a difficult term to define. Indeed, value may be in the eye of the beholder. However, the action group wants to be clear that programs should not be evaluated simply by data such as the number of majors or minors, or incomes after graduation. “Valuable” programs help attract and retain talented students and faculty and contribute to the identity of the college.

PRINCIPLE: Optimize the resiliency of academic programs

In the evaluation of programs, we need to support and encourage resiliency and flexibility. In order to support high value programs, all programs require some sense of efficiency. Appropriate efficiency will vary considerably by school and program, and indicators should be flexible, including not just majors or minors but course enrollments and courses taught.

Ideas on how this principle may be applied include:

  • Limit majors to 120 credits
  • Review historically under-enrolled classes
  • Identify core courses within a school that can be consolidated across units (e.g., anatomy, writing for the workplace, methods for social sciences)
  • Increase curricular flexibility by
    • making it easier for students to take courses outside of their field/major
    • identify curricular alternatives for courses cancelled because of under-enrollment

PRINCIPLE: Graduate enrollments should contribute to the college’s margin

Graduate programs should make a positive contribution to the college’s net margin, being mindful of the benefit that graduate student work brings to programs.

Creating a percentage target for how much graduate programs will contribute to the college’s net margin might be one way to implement this principle. We need to be mindful that some graduate students contribute to the resiliency of the college by working as graduate assistants. Graduate students add value to the college by staffing important resources such as the Wellness Center.

PRINCIPLE: Manage supplemental teaching expenses

Recognizing that some class sizes cannot be increased due to pedagogical requirements (e.g., writing intensive classes, one-on-one studio instruction) or space limitations, we can better manage supplemental teaching expenses (accrued by overload or contingent faculty hires) by increasing the average class size across campus, and thereby reducing the number of sections taught each semester.

One way to optimize supplemental teaching expenses is to raise the average class size. However, there are a number of ways to increase this average instead of simply adding a certain number of students to each section. For example, we could create a number of “super-size” classes taught by enthusiastic faculty that could raise the average class size without impacting the valuable face-to-face experience IC students have in most of their classes.

PRINCIPLE: Optimize use of space

Optimized space usage will not only help manage supplemental teaching expenses but will allow for flexibility in response to changing needs and conditions. This might mean expanding the use of large spaces or relocating classes to appropriately sized rooms, mindful of subject-specific requirements such as lab equipment or instruments (e.g., pianos).

Optimizing space usage may mean remodeling some spaces to increase capacity as medium-sized classrooms are rare on campus. We may have to expand the way our large spaces are used and redefine guidelines for space utilization. For example, in the School of Music we may need to use concert halls as classrooms, especially for “super-sized” course offerings. Finally, we may need to create a centralized course scheduling system that can oversee flexible and equitable space usage.

PRINCIPLE: Optimize academic administrative support

Administrative structures and staffing vary considerably across campus. Department and program size and support should be reviewed for resiliency and flexibility.

Various ways to implement this principle include increasing the student-staff ratio, using student work study where appropriate to replace staff, and reviewing the size of departmental units. Small departments may need to be merged with others. Just as the college reviews equitable workload, it should also standardize the criteria by which department chairs are provided release and/or compensation.

PRINCIPLE: Ensure that study abroad is run as resiliently as possible

Study abroad is often a radically transformative educational experience. With the value of the experience in mind, eligible study abroad programs should be reviewed for unsupportable cost impacts.

The cost and quality of the various study abroad programs vary considerably and eliminating the prohibitively expensive study abroad programs would make the program sustainable.


1. Frame decision-making with a holistic view of value.

Faculty explicitly resisted the term “efficiency” as a way of looking at programs. Determining value needs to consider aspects of programs including but not based solely or even largely on efficiency. Programs differ dramatically across campus in terms of resource needs but some of Ithaca College’s most high-profile programs and service course providers require considerable faculty inputs. While all areas can likely improve, including signature programs, diversity of circumstances suggests some flexibility is necessary in both metric choices and target levels.

2. Apply data-driven decision making.

In line with the above, data should be used in making decisions but a variety of metrics should be applied. Where efficiency is involved, student/faculty ratio is a start, but different versions that recognize, majors, minors, students taught, courses taught within the unit and those not (e.g. ICSM), release time, etc. need to be included. Choice of comparison date(s) will also be important as a number of planning units will already have made efficiency adjustments for the 2020/2021 academic year (i.e. 2019/2020 or even earlier should be the base year). And, as above, a variety of other metrics addressing value beyond efficiency (alignment with strategic plan, IC’s reputation, alumni support, etc.) should be formally developed and applied.

3. Continue to communicate the “fewer students, smaller college” theme.

Skepticism will likely continue as enrollment dips are a fairly regular occurrence. But the message of unfavorable demographics, increased discounting competition, and so forth can be continued, communicating that the prudent thing to do is plan for a smaller college, even if conditions improve. The priorities then become a list of tools to handle that transition, though different planning units will likely have different ideas as to how to better deal with reality (reduce overloads, larger sections, larger teaching loads, reduce lines through attrition, etc.).

4. Better utilize space.

Room constraints will limit some programs from moving to larger sections for some courses. While faculty (and students) would likely be very resistant to a return to the campus-wide scheduling fiasco carried out several years ago, especially given the purposeful classrooms built for specific programs, room scheduling can be more flexible. This would be especially true for larger classrooms or larger spaces not currently used for classrooms.

5. Involve the faculty in the process.

This process included considerable faculty involvement during a very busy time of a very busy semester. It’s clear the faculty want to be involved in the process as it goes forward. And, as above, differences in programs almost require that be the case. If a planning unit needs to cut its costs by 20%, the faculty and staff in the unit will have a view on the best way to do that. Some may choose not to fill an open position. Some may take on additional workload. Some may offer some larger sections to reduce the need for overloads. Regardless of the situation, the decisions will likely be accepted more readily if those affected have a voice.

The APP action group would like to thank several individuals who provided much needed support and guidance to our work. We would like to thank Provost La Jerne Cornish and VP Laurie Koehler for your direction, guidance, and resources; we value and appreciate the opportunity to be involved in this important work. Many thanks to Associate Provost Brad Hougham and Associate VP for IT David Weil for your assistance in planning, designing, and implementing the process we developed. Finally, we would like to offer gratitude and a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Forrest Maltzman, Professor of Politics, former Provost, and consultant at George Washington University, for your consistent feedback, information, general support and clarity throughout this important endeavor.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to play an essential role in informing a process that is critical to the success of Ithaca College. This work has been collaborative and engaging and it would not have been possible without the hard work and participation of every single action group member:

  • Christine McKinnie (Applications and Infrastructure), co-chair
  • Christine McNamara, Clinical Associate Professor (Physical Therapy), co-chair
  • Alka Bramhandkar, Professor (Finance and International Business)
  • Claire Borch, Associate Director (Office of Analytics and Institutional Research)
  • Scott Erickson, Dana Professor and Chair (Marketing)
  • Sara Haefeli, Associate Professor (Music Theory, History, and Composition)
  • Kayla Shuster ’20 (Theory, Instrumental, Music Outside Field)
  • Jennifer Tennant, Associate Professor (Economics)
  • Catherine Weidner, Professor and Chair (Theater Arts)