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TOPEKA — An outside organization has been hired by the Kansas Board of Regents to assess Kansas universities’ academic programs and resources. They voted to approve the rpk GROUP to conduct this assessment during their February meeting.

“Our system is facing declining enrollments caused by an overall drop in the college going rate,” said KBOR Chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee in a press release following the Regents’ approval. “We have to reverse this trend if we’re going to help our state’s economy flourish. This review is a good first step in identifying ways we can improve our programs to best meet the needs of Kansans.”

Rick Staisloff, rpk GROUP’s founder, said he believes most universities don’t need more funding, they just need to adjust their spending and resources.

“Our experience is that highered, by and large, doesn’t have a resource problem,” Staisloff said. “Most institutions, those systems of higher ed, actually have the resources they need. Resources here means more than just dollars, especially people and time. The issue is whether those resources are in the right place to get the job done that needs to get done.”

The company has previously done work in Kansas, looking individually at Pittsburg State University and the University of Kansas. However, their most recent project was for the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS). In the report for VSCS, they analyzed three schools, but collated the results and presented it as if they were one institution.

Their recommendations looked at three main suggestions: Investing, optimization or elimination. They analyzed 83 programs. Of those, 63% were recommended for optimization, according to the report.

“Optimization in this process is defined as reaching points of alignment between the program offerings within disciplines, building strong degree paths, and achieving overall better economies of scale as a result of the restructure,” the report stated.

Ten programs were recommended to be invested in and 20 programs were recommended for elimination.

“The analysis further identifies academic program candidates for investment and for elimination,” the report stated. “A total of 10 programs fall into the investment category, based largely upon program size and student and employer demand. Finally, 20 programs were identified for elimination, based on similar criteria.”

The process will take around seven months in total, according to Katie Hagan, senior associate at rpk GROUP.

“We would ideally kick this off in March and do data collection through the rest of the spring term,” Hagan said. “Then in the summer, we would be focusing on analysis and coming to findings and recommendations. Then towards the end of the summer and into the early fall, we would have the final report and presentations ready for (KBOR).”

One of rpk GROUP’s goals is to ensure that its project will be sustainable moving forward, according to Staisloff. For him, it’s imperative to be open in their processes.

“We’re really very focused on transparency and accountability in our partnerships with (the Regents),” Staisloff said.

Harrison-Lee said the results of this project will influence the Regents’ decision-making moving forward.

“This is a fact finding effort that will certainly impact our discussions and decisions as Regents,” Harrison-Lee said in the press release. “It’s imperative that we gather data and obtain feedback from all stakeholders to identify opportunities for efficient growth.

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