WKU to be evaluated by higher education consulting firm

Grise Hall is home to the Gordon Ford Business College at Western Kentucky University, which will eventually be moved to a new business school building to the site between Jody Richards Hall and South Lawn, adjacent to the Guthrie Bell Tower.

Matthew Williams

WKU will be evaluated by Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm, after the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education reviewed public institutions in the state.

The firm uses a variety of data sources to build an interactive platform that can identify degree production, student interest, market and salaries, and degree fit for academic programs.

On its website, the consulting firm outlines how its custom program evaluation scoring can sustain universities’ long-term growth, increase near-term enrollment, drive better student outcomes and more.

By statue, the CPE conducts periodic program evaluations on all of the public regional comprehensive institutions in the state.

During late summer 2019, the provosts and presidents of the public universities were informed by the CPE that Gray Associates was hired to build the platform for each institution.

WKU previously experienced a Comprehensive Academic Program Evaluation intended to review and recommend what programs needed to be grown, maintained, transformed, or suspended.

In an email interview, Acting Provost Cheryl Stevens emphasized the “substantial” difference between the CAPE evaluation and the Gray Associates evaluation.

“The CAPE evaluation was more qualitative and written by the program/department faculty while the Gray Associates evaluation is more quantitative,” Stevens said. “The quantitative platform is just another kind of information that can be used to inform decision making.”

Stevens said they had two video meetings with the provost’s direct reports to introduce the platform and explain where the data was collected from.

Gray Associates requested data from each university around October, which was due to be submitted by Dec. 1.

“They introduced the platform to us in a two day workshop at the end of January 2020,” Stevens said. “The training was used to show us how to interpret the platform’s scorecard for each program.”

Each associate dean from the different colleges was trained to use the platform. Some department heads and chairs have been trained to use it as well. Program coordinators and faculty can sign up for blocks of time to access the platform.

Stevens clarified there are no immediate plans to cut programs or classes based on the Gray Platform scorecards. Instead, they will be used to grow or identify potential new academic programs.

Julie Shadoan, program coordinator of paralegal studies, was part of a committee of nearly 30 people who looked at and talked about the data presented to them.

“We made some decisions about new program areas that we might want to explore as a university,” Shadoan said. “Then, the colleges broke off and looked at data about the individual programs within the college.”

Shadoan explained there weren’t many recommendations or any actions taken on the data, since it was mainly for informational purposes to help colleges look inward and make decisions that make the most fiscal sense.

When the program evaluation was introduced, the Faculty Senate questioned the timing of the review since it came after WKU experienced two other major program evaluations. Coupled with the timing, they were concerned with the expenditure on consultants in times of budget deficits across the sectors of state finances.

There was a sense of discomfort from the faculty when it was first being discussed, and while things were being established, Shadoan and others experienced issues because the process wasn’t communicated down in a timely manner.

“It was the perfect storm,” Shadoan said. “We kind of happened upon information through a Zoom meeting with one of the Gray consultants.”

After finding out over finals’ week, the committee only had the winter break to react or to think about the evaluations before workshops happened on the first Thursday and Friday back from break.

Shadoan said she couldn’t place the blame on anyone but saw it as poor communication between the consultants and the university.

Shadoan said she stands with peers in a resolution for better communication when initiatives with a considerable impact are conducted at WKU.

News reporter Matthew Williams can be reached at matthew.williams904@ topper.wku.edu.