Last updated Sept. 25, 2017
Our priority is our students – their learning and their success. This priority drives all of our decisions and is at the heart of everything we do. We realize this priority when we increase scholarship opportunities, when we invest in academic programs that match 21st century needs, or when we develop new resources that support students to persist at and graduate from PLU.
The changes we are experiencing at PLU right now are about proactively taking control of PLU’s future and setting our own path. Our ultimate objective is to ensure that PLU remains a sustainable learning community that delivers our mission with exceptionally strong academic programs, grounded in the liberal arts, informed by global perspective and delivered by faculty members uniquely committed to guiding students on their vocational journey.
A Changing Higher Education Landscape and PLU
Changing demographics have led to smaller cohorts of students entering college over the past 10 years or so. Simply put: we have fewer students at PLU now than we did in 2008. Because the overall size of our faculty has remained relatively consistent and our course offerings have not been reduced (in fact, they have grown over the same period), our faculty-student ratio is out of alignment. In some cases that means we have the potential for unsustainably sized programs and limited capacity to invest in new or differently offered programs where that may be needed. Our commitment to delivering high-quality programs, offered by talented faculty members with deep expertise in teaching and their disciplines, remains.
The competition for students in much of the country is increasingly fierce, with colleges working harder than ever to attract a limited pool of students. This is particularly true in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest, with little to no population growth. That means that colleges in those parts of the country are recruiting here in Washington. A recent survey showed that fewer than half of all midsize public and private colleges met both their revenue and enrollment goals last year. While that is true, PLU is in a relatively advantaged position given that we are in a modest growth market; we continue to invest in programs that support diverse, non-traditional student access and success; and we have built forecasts based on the reality of the number of high school graduates plateauing through 2023. This means we may reasonably expect stability in our enrollment, but that significant growth in undergraduate enrollment would be challenging to achieve. That leads PLU to consider how best to steward the more limited resources now available to us, while also considering how our academic programs, as the core of what we do, align with the changes in market, student expectations and choices, and our deep investment in learning.
Faculty Joint Committee Process
One way we have responded is to engage an established faculty process that considers these questions. The faculty at Pacific Lutheran University currently are involved in a multi-year process to review and revise our academic programs to make sure we are offering the programs that best respond to student interests in a way that effectively stewards our resources and aligns with our commitment to offering liberal arts and professional education infused by a tradition of Lutheran higher education. This work will pave the way for continued growth in new areas that our 21st-century students are interested in studying, in ways that facilitate their learning, and that also respond to emerging and new opportunities for meeting the world’s greatest needs.
The project began in December 2016, when the president tasked 20 members of the Faculty Joint Committee to ensure that PLU has fiscal alignment between the programs it offers, the faculty needed to support those programs, and the demand for those majors and classes by students. The committee, comprised of faculty representatives from every academic division and school, spent seven months reviewing enrollment data soliciting narratives from academic leaders to understand their enrollment trends, and analyzing the higher education landscape to develop its recommendations. Those recommendations now go to the leaders of each academic unit to either affirm the FJC’s work or make suggestions of their own to accomplish similar outcomes. Once that work is completed in early fall semester, the FJC will make its final recommendations to PLU’s provost and president for review. After thoughtful consideration, the president will make formal recommendations to the Board of Regents, which will vote on the matter at its December meeting.
The events are scheduled at different times of day in an effort to align with students’ schedules. We will continue to add more sessions (include repeat offerings) in response to student interest.
- Student FJC Forum Powerpoint: “How Did We Get Here?”
- “How Did We Get Here?”
Wednesday, Sept. 20
- “FJC Process and Opportunities for Student Engagement”
Monday, Oct. 9
- “Diversity and Investment in Student Experience”
Wednesday, Oct. 11
- “FJC Process and Opportunities for Student Engagement”
Friday, Oct. 13
- The FJC created a provisional set of recommendations (click the link on the top right of this page for an executive summary), which were released by Acting President Allan Belton on Aug. 24.
- Academic units will be asked to propose how they can achieve the committee’s suggested reductions, and to answer some of the specific questions the committee had. These proposals are due to the FJC on Sept. 19.
- After reviewing unit proposals, the FJC will arrive at its final recommendations. Depending on unit proposals, the provisional recommendations may or may not be included in the final recommendations. Any programmatic changes (e.g. elimination of a major, combining of departments) will come before the Faculty Assembly for vote by the faculty this fall.
- The FJC’s final recommendations, along with those of the provost, will then be given to President Belton who will make a final set of recommendations to the Board of Regents.
- The PLU Board of Regents will vote on these recommendations at a special meeting on Dec. 9.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’re engaged in a multi-year, faculty-led process to review our academic programs. The goal is to offer programs that respond to student interests in a way that efficiently stewards resources, including time and tuition, and aligns with our commitment to offering liberal arts and professional education infused by a tradition of Lutheran higher education.
As part of this process, we are re-aligning our academic programs: reducing faculty positions from areas where student numbers are lower now than they were 5-10 years ago and eliminating programs that have seen decreased student interest over time. This will pave the way for continued growth in new areas that our 21st-century students are interested in studying and that respond to emerging and new opportunities for meeting the world’s greatest needs.
You may have heard from friends attending college elsewhere that other institutions are going through a similar process. The difference in PLU’s process is that it is led by faculty. Our process has clearly delineated steps with multiple opportunities to consider new and existing data about programs and to offer responses to recommendations.
Changing demographics have led to fewer students entering college over the past decade. We have fewer students at PLU now than we did in 2008. Because the overall size of our faculty has remained relatively consistent and our course offerings have not been reduced (in fact, they have grown over the same period), our faculty-student ratio is out of alignment. Our commitment to delivering high-quality programs, offered by talented faculty with deep expertise in teaching and their disciplines, remains.
The competition for students in much of the country is increasingly fierce. Colleges are working harder than ever to attract a limited pool of students. This is particularly true in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest, with little to no population growth, so colleges in those parts of the country are recruiting here in Washington. A recent survey showed that fewer than half of all midsize public and private colleges met both their revenue and enrollment goals last year. While that is true, PLU is in a relatively advantaged position given that we are in a modest-growth market; we continue to invest in programs that support diverse, non-traditional student access and success; and we have built forecasts based on the reality of the number of high school graduates plateauing through 2023.
It’s part of our ongoing mission to make the university affordable by offering substantial scholarships and financial aid in order to fulfill our commitment to accessibility for students, guiding them on their path to purposeful vocation. To meet this goal, it is essential that our budget remain balanced.
The changes we are discussing today are about setting a new course for the future of PLU. We are choosing to set a purposeful new course for this university to ensure the long-term success of PLU. We look forward to having students engage with us in shaping that course.
No. Our budget is balanced this year, and it was balanced last year. We are engaged in this work to ensure we remain that way.
PLU faces the same enrollment challenges as the vast majority of institutions of private higher education, but we are taking control our our future by responding strategically to the needs of today’s students and our investment in their learning and success.
We think it’s important that our faculty create and design our curriculum. The work of making these difficult choices is in the hands and leadership of the faculty.
If you’ve seen or heard anything negative, that’s because this will be painful to many of us whose work will be impacted by the change and because we are a relational place. But we will do our very best to make this as fair and equitable as possible.
This is our opportunity to envision a sustainable academy that delivers our mission with exceptionally strong academic programs, grounded in the liberal arts, informed by global perspective and delivered by faculty uniquely committed to guiding students on their vocational journey.
The Faculty Joint Committee on the Reduction and Reallocation of Force is reviewing all 42 of our undergraduate and graduate programs.
Following seven months of analysis, using data generated internally and with the aid of an outside consultant, the committee has put forth its provisional recommendations that align programs and costs.
The provisional set of recommendations includes the reduction or reallocation of 31 faculty positions including a handful of programmatic changes to be considered and voted on by the entire faculty.
The word “provisional” is key here. The Faculty Joint Committee made these initial recommendations with the understanding that they still had questions in need of answers. It is highly likely that the final recommendations will not match these provisional recommendations.
In some cases, a provisional recommendation carried with it very specific questions for department chairs and deans to answer. These questions did not mean the FJC had formed opinions about these units; rather, they needed more information to fully understand what they did and why they were staffed the way they were.
The need for change is being driven by shifting dynamics in the higher education landscape. Every university needs to align its offerings to meet the wants and needs of tomorrow’s students and to deliver those programs in a way that efficiently stewards university resources, including tuition.
The process moving forward looks like this:
The deans and chairs of the academic units identified in the set of provisional recommendations will develop proposals to respond to the goals identified by the Faculty Join Committee (due by Sept. 19).
The FJC will review these proposals. In so doing, they may reconsider and revise their provisional recommendations. The FJC will then issue a set of final recommendations.
Any proposals to eliminate programs (majors, minors, or graduate programs) will be brought to the Faculty Assembly for the full faculty to vote on Nov. 10.
The president will review the final recommendations of the FJC and the provost, determining the recommendations to be presented to the Board of Regents. The board will consider those recommendations at its Dec. 9 meeting and make the final decisions about any reductions in positions or programs. The impacted faculty and staff will be informed as soon as the final details are determined.
Our commitment to you, our students, and your success is as strong as it has ever been, and we are committed to accommodating students who are enrolled in affected units. At some universities undergoing reductions, academic programs are sunsetted over time — such that no new students may declare majors and minors once the final reductions are announced, but students who have already declared can complete the program as designed. At other universities, students complete their degree programs through independent study.
Because the work of the FJC is not complete, it is too early to say what exact measures we will put in place to accommodate students. The appropriate course of action will be context-dependent and will be thoroughly vetted by faculty and administration with input from students to ensure that any students who are affected by academic program changes are able to complete their chosen degree programs.
PLU has been delivering quality education to students for more than 125 years, and will continue to do that; our mission and core values are unchanged.
Because the work of the FJC is not complete, it is too early to say which programs might be affected. Most of the provisional recommendations call for the reduction of a faculty member from a unit (say, going from six faculty members to five in a particular department), leaving the program intact. Incoming students may notice a curriculum that has been modified to reflect a renewed effort to be vital and attractive to students.
There is a possibility that some programs (majors, minors) may be eliminated, which we will know for certain on Dec. 9. If this is the case, the Office of Admission will notify students who have indicated interest in this area to help them review adjacent programs at PLU, as well as programs at peer institutions that might be a good fit.
It depends on the program. In some units, for example, recent retirements have not been replaced; in this case, the change has already happened. In other units, we may see faculty remain in their positions through this academic year and next. In still others, planned retirements for several years in the future will be considered as part of our process.
Because this is not a response to a crisis but rather a strategic response to the changing higher education landscape, we can roll out changes on our timeline (in accordance with our Faculty Handbook).
We’ve received a lot of passionate comments in response to the FJC’s set of provisional recommendations. How can alumni help? How can your voices be heard clearly?
1.) Voice your support for PLU and your faculty. Reach out to the professors that help shaped your life and let them know you support them. The faculty have hard work ahead of them as they determine the curriculum at PLU, and there’s no easy decisions. Let them know you appreciate the work they do!
2.) Volunteering. Raise your hand to share your professional expertise with current students and new alumni, engage with the Alumni Board or talk with prospective students about PLU! The world needs more Lutes.
3.) Financial support. The incredible work that our faculty and students are able to accomplish is the direct result of support. Please consider making a gift in the name of someone that inspired you! You can choose specific schools, departments, teams and programs.
(While fundraising to “save a program” will not affect the FJC’s recommendations, an exception would be made if there were enough funds to create an endowed chair in an academic area, which would drastically change how much it costs to deliver that program.)
You don’t just give to PLU, you give through PLU.