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Frequently Asked Questions - Previous Topics

General Process

What is the purpose of Program Prioritization?

The dual purpose of program prioritization is to improve programmatic quality and efficiency through the alignment of resources with priorities.  It is not correct to view PP as merely a “cutting exercise.”  PP is a rational process that should take place routinely (and has not taken place at NIU for decades, if ever.)

PP is preferable to the alternatives, which most often involve across-the-board cuts or cuts based on very few criteria (such as enrollment trends or ROI).  PP provides faculty and staff voice with respect to budgeting decisions that we didn't have before.

Program Prioritization has never before taken place at NIU.  In the early 1990s a process called PQP (Priorities, Quality, and Productivity) was imposed upon state universities by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, but it was a very different process.  Program Prioritization was initiated by NIU itself, and as such had been customized to fit the unique culture of our institution.

Given the Governor’s proposed budget cuts for higher education, will Program Prioritization continue?

Yes.  While Illinois’ budget issues are serious, the proposed remedies represent short-term responses.  Program Prioritization is strategic and long-term in nature, and represents a fundamental change in the way NIU allocates resources.  Furthermore, while Program Prioritization may result in some program elimination and/or consolidation, the process typically also calls for enhancement and new investment in other programs. 

Why are we doing both Program Prioritization and Program Review?  Can’t we just pick one?

Program Review does not match resources with priorities, which is our most immediate need.  Furthermore, Program Review is under revision at present.  Striving for annual data updates make it less of a burden for departments than having to do a huge report every eight years.  Program Review will evolve into a process that is complementary to PP and accreditation from here on out.

The APC's program review process is in fact already in the process of modification to align more directly not only with PP but also with program accrediting bodies.

Why are we doing this?  Why can’t University Council make the final decisions?

In addition to the importance of PP internally, there are two external motivators:

(1) NIU has an HLC monitoring report due in 2018 in which we must show how we align resources and priorities and (2) Illinois State Public Act 97-0610 requires that the IBHE report to the legislature each year on programs that are poor performers and/or have been eliminated.  The IBHE needs this information from all of the universities.  Some universities (including SIU) are using the old Priorities, Quality, and Productivity (PQP) standards to accommodate this requirement.  NIU prefers to set its own course in this regard. 

The UC will play a role.  The Task Forces will rank programs and make recommendations, and those will go through the shared governance process, including University Council.  While UC has jurisdiction over academic matters, it still has to go to the President, who has the ultimate authority over program funding.

Won’t this process threaten graduate programs and research?

We hold the Carnegie classification of “Research high.”  As such, we highly value graduate programs and research.  Criterion 1:  Quality of Faculty and Faculty Outcomes (16%) and Criterion 4: Importance to the University Mission (16%) both support the importance of graduate programs and research and are weighted highly.

Would internal/departmental reviews would be better?

Internal program reviews do not link resources to priorities or address how the NIU is allocating resources across the whole university.  Peer review not only speaks to fairness, but also to the goal of getting program leaders to think creatively about possible efficiencies and opportunities involving multiple departments and programs.  We want to be aligned with the overall university mission, but we acknowledge that departments often have their own missions as well.  Cross-departmental peer review happens all the time, and we trust reviewers to exhibit the “trustee mentality” or “institutional stewardship” they bring to other types of program reviews.

Will Program Prioritization itself be evaluated? 

Yes.  In fact, that process has already begun with a newly-formed Evaluation Team within the PP Coordinating Group structure.  It is critical for us to evaluate cost vs. outcomes in this process, especially when it comes to time spent by faculty, staff and students.

How will students be involved in Program Prioritization?

Students have and will continue to play important roles in the Program Prioritization process.  Student representatives serve on the Coordinating Team and on two important university committees that are assessing criteria by which programs will be evaluated. Students were invited to nominate members of the Academic and Administrative Task Forces, and a student representative chosen by the Student Association will serve on the Task Force Selection Committee.  Student perspective will also be sought in the formulation of data elements selected to match finalized criteria.  Students will be asked to provide input into academic and administrative program narratives, and will be invited to attend meetings with experts from other universities that have undergone program prioritization.  Finally, when the Task Forces have finished their work next spring, the Student Association will appoint an all-student review panel to evaluate program rankings and recommendations before they go to the President and other executive decision-makers.

To what extent must decisions about new initiatives wait until the outcome of our Program Prioritization process?

Program Prioritization encourages innovative thinking about new ways to serve our students, region, and world.  Support for new programs and approaches is an outcome reported by many universities that have already undergone the process. That said, there is no expectation for faculty and staff to hold off on suggesting, researching, or implementing new initiatives until Program Prioritization decisions have been made.

After all the committees and task forces have done their work, who will make the final decisions about specific programs?

Final recommendations will go to a group that includes NIU’s president, provost, chief financial officer, and executive secretary to the University Council.

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Is this an ongoing process that will effect incoming students within the next few years or will these changes come into a effect within the next 2 semesters and complicate junior/seniors graduation?

The process of Program Prioritization is anticipated to occur every five years. The process takes about 12-18 months to complete.  For the current process, any resource allocation changes that would go into effect would be implemented in Fiscal Year 2017 which runs from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.  If any programs were to be eliminated or scaled back at that time, all students who were currently enrolled in those programs would be guaranteed the opportunity to complete their academic programs as per the third Guiding Principle for NIU Program Prioritization.

Will the process continue to be flexible? 

We will continue to be flexible because we must.  This is a first-time process for NIU, and we necessarily must make adjustments as we go.  It is important that all members of our university community know that they have a voice and have been heard as Program Prioritization evolves.  Among the many adjustments we have made to the process are changes in representation on various decision-making groups, and changes to the overall process timeline.

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How will “programs” be defined?

The most general definition of a program is any activity or collection of activities that consumes resources – people, dollars, space, equipment, or time.  A program is NOT a department. There are differences in approach to defining academic programs (typically anchored by a CIP code) and administrative programs (sometimes identified by cost centers but often more nuanced than that).  Members of the Data Subgroup have been meeting with heads of colleges and other academic areas, as well as leaders of divisions and other administrative areas, to work through these definitions.  As of this writing (late March), the Data Subgroup is about halfway through a tentative list of academic programs and nearly a quarter of the way finished with an inventory of administrative programs.  In both cases, the lists will be shared with the heads of colleges, divisions and other areas before final lists are drawn up.  Above all else, the process of identifying academic and administrative programs for review is highly iterative – that is, it requires many meetings and much feedback to delineate core functions and discrete activities. 

Won’t large programs have an advantage over smaller programs?

Actually, if you look at the criteria, external demand, which would reflect enrollment, is weighted lower (11%) than internal demand (14%). The APC/RSB took note of the importance of how small programs support larger ones through service courses and general education courses in this weighting scheme. Enrollments are just one of many considerations, and are not weighted at a sufficiently high level to advantage large programs. 

Why the focus on programs rather than departments?

We focus on programs because a program better links to the functions and discrete activities in different areas. For example, a department’s undergraduate degree programs may have very different capacities, advantages, and/or issues that those of its graduate degree programs. Program-defined prioritization allows us to truly focus on the effectiveness of these functions and discrete activities.

We studied processes at many other universities before choosing PP. Institutions that have conducted PP based on departments rather than programs were most often operating on a Responsibility Centered Budgeting (RCB) model where this made more sense. This process does not match NIU’s budgeting model.

What is a program, and where do minors and certificates fit in?

An academic program can generally be linked to a CIP code, but there are multiple prongs to the definition of an academic program, the most important being that academic programs conduct the mission of the university.  An administrative program likewise supports the mission of the university. 

Across plans (majors, minors, and certificates), there are nearly 900 different emphases and specialties, etc. That translates to approximately 450 distinct plans, and ultimately to approximately 175 Program Prioritization-defined academic programs.  Minors with a “parent” major will be incorporated as a subset within that major. Separate academic programs will be set up for minors that don’t have a “parent.” Separate categories will also be set up for certificates and pre-professional programs that cannot be incorporated within an existing academic program. 

Where do service and Gen Ed courses fall in Program Prioritization? 

These fall under Academic Criteria #7: Internal Demand of the Programs (14%). This is where it will be made clear how programs support other programs. It is important in the narrative to discuss how a program provides service courses and general education courses in support of other programs. 

How will interdisciplinary and research centers be evaluated?

Interdisciplinary and research centers will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Centers may be defined as academic programs, administrative programs, or both academic and administrative programs. Research centers will be primarily academic, although a few components of the center, like outreach to the community, may be considered administrative. 

Interdisciplinary centers should use the narrative for Criteria #5 and #7 to tell their story and stress their importance. Your program narrative can and should be used to lend support to other programs.

What should programs do if a particular criteria question isn’t applicable?

If a criteria question is not applicable, just enter NA in the narrative box and add your narrative in the criterion summary area. The program will be scored on the criteria, not the individual questions.

Why do we have to use word limits?

There are several reasons why we have instituted word limits. The current word limits generously allow programs to communicate their role, connection to the mission and value to the university portfolio in addition to providing additional data through charts and graphs (which do not count toward your word limits). It is important that programs be clearly and succinctly described within the narratives. Further, the task forces face the arduous task of reviewing program narratives, so word limits make that process more manageable. The limits ensure each program is given a fair and thorough review by task force members.

What does "university's program portfolio" mean?
(As referenced in Question 1.3 in the Administrative Template and Question 4.4 in the Academic template)

The program portfolio is the range of administrative (or academic) programs that are offered by NIU.  The question is asking how the program you are describing fits in with all the other programs at NIU. In what ways does it enhance the student experience and provide opportunities that are unique to the program but also well-aligned with other programs? It is a chance for the program author to take a holistic approach to NIU’s full complement of programs.   

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What kinds of data will be collected?

Like so many aspects of the Program Prioritization process, the types of data needed to evaluate programs will vary widely.  On the academic side, it might be reasonable to expect information on enrollments, course loads, number of majors, faculty/student ratios, sponsored projects, etc.  For administrative programs, benchmarking data from relevant professional associations might be requested, as well as information on revenues, unit costs, and numbers of clients served.  For both categories, there will likely be information on demand and trends.  Note:  The examples listed here are neither definitive nor complete.  Again, the process is iterative and highly individualized. 

Will units be able to add supplemental data to their reports?

Yes. For each criterion, units will receive a different page view. Each page view will include:

  1. Pre-loaded data
  2. Narrative (500 words, where one can address the data – whether it is correct, incorrect, and/or why it is what it is) 
  3. Unit upload data (Word or PDF files – can be additional data, charts, graphs, or analysis).

The process is data-driven, but also requires sound judgement.  Chairs/directors will use the narratives to discuss highlights and specializations within programs and anything relevant that isn’t represented by data.  The narrative is an excellent opportunity to talk about the values and quality of your program: use is to make the best possible case for growth and increased investment.

Is there additional information related to data reporting deliverables and terminology?

Yes. There is a data glossary, which shows the data to criterion question mappings, data/reporting time periods, a data description, common issues applying the data, as well as suggestions to overcome those issues. The data glossary should address most questions regarding the data residing in Prioritization Plus.

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Task Forces

Who will choose the Task Force members?

The membership of the two Task Forces will be selected by a group of nine people that includes four faculty, two administrators, SPS and OSC representatives and a student.  The membership of the Task Force Selection Committee will be comprised of:  the Executive Vice President and Provost, the Vice President for Administration and Finance, the University Council Executive Secretary/Faculty Senate President, three faculty selected by the Faculty Senate, one SPS member chosen by the SPS Council, one operating staff member chosen by the Operating Staff Council, and one student chosen by the Student Association.

The announcement mentions the university will provide support to departments for temporary loss of service and to indivuduals for additional work hours. How will this work exactly? May the support to departments take the form of 10-hour GA positions, or would this be covered through extra help?  Is the support to individuals through release time of regular duties or extra duty pay pro-rated at regular base compensation?

Every Task Force member’s situation is likely to be different so we intend to work this out on a case by case basis when the Task Force members are selected. All of the possibilities you listed may be considered. Much of this process is evolving as this is the first time NIU has undertaken Program Prioritization.

Can you provide some insights to the Task Forces selection process and why one college is represented by multiple members when other colleges have just one representative?

  1. The Task force members were selected by a Selection Committee that included representatives from senior leadership, the faculty senate, the SPS Council, the Operating Staff Council and the Student Association. (See list of the members on the selection team). 
  2. The Selection Committee evaluated the over 100 nominees based on the requirements put forth in the nomination call and used a rubric to rank the individuals based on these requirements which were:
    • Members must demonstrate commitment to forwarding our mission as a student-centered research and teaching institution with a strong commitment to regional engagement.
    • Have the ability to consider the university’s long-term vision and participate as a representative of the entire university, not just his/her own department or unit (i.e., exhibit a trustee mentality).
    • Have a reputation for getting things done and meeting commitments within a specific time frame (i.e., exhibit conscientiousness).
    • Members must have high credibility among peers, and a reputation for maintaining confidentiality (i.e., exhibit credibility).
    • Institutional knowledge or participation in university-wide initiatives such as service on committees, task forces, and shared governance bodies (i.e., exhibit institutional knowledge or experience).
  3. There was a commitment, which was posted on the website and presented publically in several venues, that at least one individual from each college would serve on the Academic Task Force. There was never an intention to have the membership of the Academic Task Force be representative of the colleges based on student enrollment (or faculty numbers, or grant money received, or any other metric).  The “trustee-mentally” was always considered a guiding principle for selection.
  4. The individuals who had the highest rankings were chosen to serve as the Chairs of the Task Forces.

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Author Questions

The following questions and answers come from data and narrative workshops held during late October and early November, 2015. 

Can we enter data as a sentence instead of a number in the 5 X 7 table (that can be uploaded?)
Yes. Also take advantage of image uploads.

Do the jpeg/png uploaded images count against the word count?
No. Word counts for narratives are separate from uploaded images and tables.

Can one embed the image so it is in the middle of the text (allowing greater context to the narrative?)
While technically images can be included in the middle of text in a question response, when the system generates the report, data images are always displayed above narrative text. It is recommended that authors insert images at the top of their narrative responses with text beneath.

Can we upload data in criterion summary even if we don’t answer the questions in that criterion?

What happens if the narrative goes over 500 words for the criterion, or if I paste more than 500 words from MS Word into the question?
A red alert will be seen on the top of the page in Prioritization Plus for that criterion.

Do bullet points or numbered lists count in the word limit?
The bullet boints or numbers themselves do not count; the words that follow do count.

Will there be a penalty for not completing 500 words per criterion?
No. Program authors know best the stories they need to communicate and what is relevant to their narratives.

How does one deal with a program we do not want to support going forward?
There is an established procedure to do this.  Use the appropriate IT form for this request; be sure your approver is in agreement on this point prior to submitting a request to take away the program.  See

How do we propose creation of a new program?
Again, there is an established procedure to do this.  Use the appropriate IT form for this request; be sure your approver is in agreement on this point prior to submitting a request to create a new program.  See

Can we use peers other than the IPEDS peers? What if there are no data from the Delaware Study since mine is an administrative program?
The current Data Glossary has a list of peers we have used.  You can use a different sub-set of the IPEDS data set.  Each institution has a data book you can drill down into if needed.  You can also put in a request to the Helpdesk for looking up data on institutions that are relevant to your program as a peer group.

Where is the headcount/salary data coming from – what is the source? Also what is covered by the salary data?
The data is pulled from Human Resource (HR) data queries.  Wages and additional compensation is covered for the entire 2014 fiscal year.

We are not going to use the budget data; instead, we want to supply our own data. Is that something the Task Force will understand and evaluate comparably?
Institutional data follows a standardized and equitable reporting process.  In some cases, this may not be what you want to speak to as a program author.  You are free to use your local data to substitute and/or complement the data provided, but you will need to identify the source.  Please remember that ultimately your narrative will provide the strongest response to each criterion.

If programs in our college do not have a benchmark in the Delaware Study, could we use our own peer set to benchmark against?
Yes. Please provide a context for the benchmark peers you provide – aspirational or competitive peers, accredited programs in the region, etc.

Can we upload transactional data we have access to?
Yes. Please feel free to use that which best helps support your narrative responses to the criteria.

Could I compare to only one benchmark peer?
Yes – however, be aware that the usual practice is to compare to several peers to create a complete picture. 

Where can I put data?
There are three places where an author can provide data:  First, the 5-rows by 7-columns data table.  This table is useful for figures, counts and percentages.  A second option is an image via a program author upload.  Third, you can include data in the actual narrative; a few figures, counts or percentages at most are recommended.  For tables and diagrams, be sure to provide a legend.

How is the word count distributed across the criteria?
500 words, across the criterion, inclusive of criterion questions and criterion summary.

Can I use “NA” or “not applicable” if the data/reporting is institutionally uploaded?
Yes, if institutionally provided data/reporting is not calibrated to your program or is not applicable to your program, enter “NA” or “not applicable” and provide a brief statement that explains why, then proceed with your narrative.

My institutionally provided HR and budget data is shared across my program and other programs. How do I speak to this in my narrative?
Explain the proportion of resources used, i.e., 60% of cost center is relative to my program. Program authors are encouraged to provide narratives using counts (headcounts, FTEs) and position titles rather than using specific names.

Can I use acronyms or abbreviations?
We recommend program authors not use acronyms or abbreviations.

Do I have to use the IPEDS peers in the Data Glossary for benchmarking?
No, you do not necessarily need to use the IPEDS peer set if you provide benchmarking. While the IPEDS peer set provides a useful institutional peer set, programs may want to benchmark to a peer set that is more disciplinary or industry normed. Program authors can benchmark to either comparable or aspirational peers.

Is there a single place where I can find general guidelines for writing narratives?
Yes – visit

Can I address the HR staffing in my narrative?

How do I reference the intended table from the narrative?
Use the table description. Underscores or dashes are acceptable while referencing the table description to limit word use.

Can I re-use, or reference a data table, or image, from a different question?
Re-using an image or data table is preferred over referencing an existing data table or image from another question.  If re-using a data table or image prohibits you from providing a unique data table or image for that question, then referencing an existing image or data table is ok.  Please keep in mind that task forces will be reviewing hundreds of program narrations, so their efficiency should be considered.  In either case, re-using or referencing an existing data table or image, the wording explaining the data should be different to reflect the nature of the question and criterion.  In other words, it’s ok to use the same data, but tell a different story about it – a story that responds to the question.

Which browser should I use?
While Prioritization Plus works in any browser, it’s been noted to work best in Firefox.

Where does my table go when I copy/paste from MS Word?
Prioritization Plus performs some cleanup of invalid html when data is pasted from MS Word or elsewhere. A few things (like pasting a Word table) may delete the table without warning. Instead, use the “Create New Data Table” option in Prioritization Plus.

How do I submit my program for approval?
There is no automated submission process. Approvers already have access to their respective programs, and the ability to approve them. Telling your approver that your program is ready for review is all that is needed.

How do I approve a program?
The steps to approve a program in P+ are outlined in this job aid on the Program Prioritization website.