The Austin Group is a consulting company hired by Marian University to evaluate its programs. Apparently, its primary contribution has been “Project Real Cost” to assess the financial contribution and liabilities of faculty members and programs.
President Elsener is known to have twice cited a report by the Austin Group as the reason for eliminating political science (both times in November, to an alum and at the Faculty Assembly). Interestingly, the Austin Group report was never mentioned in the proposal to eliminate political science, never mentioned in the addendum to the proposal, and never mentioned by the administration in discussions with the faculty or its committees.
Three documents from the Austin Group report were provided to the political science program as part of the Teaching Learning Committee program self-study, Links to the documents and analyses are provided below.
What the Austin Group report shows is that political science is not a poor performing program nor is it a liability. Its performance is comparable to the majority of programs at Marian. The report does not provide a reasonable justification for eliminating the political science program. So, what is the real reason the administration is so insistent on eliminating political science?
Graduation and Retention Data
Graduation and retention data looks at how well programs graduate and retain their majors from 2016 to 2019.
The data lists the number of majors and graduates from 2015 to 2019. When the numbers from 2020 (29 majors and 7 graduates), 2021 (31 majors and 8 graduates), and 2022 (8 graduates expected) are added to the data, it shows that political science has been consistently around 30 majors and 8 graduates in each of the past four year. The 31 majors in the political science program puts it in the top third of programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. Moreover, the 8 graduates per year is about the average (27%) that should be expected from a program of about 30 majors. The political science program is not performing poorly in terms of majors and graduates.
To see how well political science retains its majors during this time period, the average retention of majors for the university has been calculated in an Excel file. Click here to download this file.
The data shows that the political science program’s “Same Major” retention rate was significantly higher than the university average in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 (the exception being 2015). Moreover, the program’s “Any Major” retention rate was either higher or within 5 percentage points of the university average in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 (the exception being 2015). The political science program is performing above average and not poorly in terms of retention.
Project Real Cost Financial Metrics Dashboard
The Project Real Cost Financial Metrics Dashboard looks at the cost of the student hours generated (GSH) by the program using the net tuition revenues from the students (tuition minus financial aid) and program delivery cost (including faculty salaries and benefits, operating costs, administrative costs, etc.). It examines the cost of each generated student hour and the Margin %, which is calculated as Margin $ (tuition revenue minus the cost of delivery) divided by the NTR (net tuition revenue).
On average between 2016 and 2019, the political science program met its target Cost per GSH and target margin percentage (two years above and two years below).
|Cost per GSH||Target Cost||Difference||Margin %||Target Margin %||Difference|
Note that these measures are functions of economies of scale. The more large-classes being taught, the better the Cost per GSH and Margin %. Because the new General Education curriculum requires that all students in the College of Arts and Sciences take “POL102: Introduction to American Politics,” it will increase the number of high enrolling classes and further improve the program’s Cost per GSH and Margins %.
If money is the primary consideration, there are straightforward ways to make essential liberal arts programs more financially profitable and maintain the liberal arts foundation of Marian. Good leadership would have identified, explored, and promoted these approaches.
Project Real Cost Yield and Demand
Project Real Cost Yield and Demand looks at how successful programs are at attracting interested students and the popularity of programs to prospective students. Yield and demand were looked at for 2018 and 2019. Programs were classified as High, Medium/High, Medium/Low, and Low for yield and demand.
In 2018, the political science program was listed as Medium/Low for both yield and demand. However, only 39% of programs ranked as Medium/High or High for yield and only 29% of programs were Medium/High or High for demand. Political science, therefore, was grouped with between 60% and 70% of the programs.
In 2019, the political science program was listed as Medium/High for yield and Medium/Low for demand. Political science improved to Medium/High for yield, but demand remained Medium/Low. However, only 32% of programs had a Medium/High or High ranking for demand.
In terms of yield and demand, the political science program performs at about the level of most programs at Marian University. If political science is failing at yield and demand, then so are the majority of Marian’s programs.
As a final note, it is important to appreciate the nature of the data that the Project Real Cost Financial Metrics Dashboard uses to judge the worth of faculty and programs. The program delivery cost includes faculty benefits and salaries, operating costs, and administrative costs. It appears that faculty are penalized for using Marian health insurance, receiving retirement contributions, and the higher salaries they earn from their years of service. Moreover, it looks like programs are penalized for any inefficiencies in operations and administration that are out of their control. In addition, the use of “net tuition revenue” to calculate costs seems to punish programs and courses that attract students who require more financial aid. Which students are likely to need financial aid? The implications are troubling. None of this, however, should be particularly surprising given the for-profit business orientation of the administration.