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College academic program review seeks to better align education with job marketplace

CPE launching evaluation to help campuses identify opportunities

educational attainmentFRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education has launched a new data-driven assessment of academic programs to help ensure they align with the state’s strategic goals and prepare students for career success in the evolving marketplace.

CPE is partnering with Gray Associates, a nationally-recognized consulting and analytics firm, to conduct the review. Gray’s program evaluation system provides comprehensive market data on student demand and employer needs, helping colleges and universities better gauge economic conditions and improve their program portfolios.

Each of Kentucky’s eight public universities are collaborating in the process, and every baccalaureate program – hundreds in total – are receiving scores on 50 different metrics related to demand, employment and competition, among other factors. Institutions can use the scores to determine if programs need further evaluation or to identify new opportunities for increasing enrollment, revenue and efficiency.

CPE President Aaron Thompson said the goal is to help campuses design and prioritize programs that best equip students for the workforce while also providing a well-rounded and inspiring education for a meaningful civic life. He praised Kentucky’s public colleges and universities for their commitment to improving programs and outcomes during a difficult financial time.

“This marks a fundamental shift in how CPE and campuses approach the mission of higher education in Kentucky,” he said. “We are focusing on student and market demand like never before, and this approach will provide important insights to develop and maintain programs that are consistent with our institutional missions and our state’s strategic objectives.”

The Council has reviewed academic programs at public colleges and universities since 1997; however, the process has taken different forms over the decades. CPE partnered with Gray earlier this year after collaborating with institutions on how to streamline the process and improve data analytics.

In addition to the program evaluation, Gray is providing a revenue and cost analysis that calculates the marginal contribution of each program to campus finances. Gray has also conducted a series of workshops to help universities understand the data and make decisions about whether to start, sustain, improve or grow programs.

Campuses will send their reports to CPE in December, and CPE will synthesize the findings into a final report.

Melissa Bell, vice president for academic affairs and student success at CPE, said the new program review process has been an important element in continuous improvement efforts.

“This process, combined with the knowledge from institutions and faculty members, provides a comprehensive understanding of how students are likely to fare after completing a program,” Bell said. “It also offers campuses an unprecedented amount of information to develop high-demand programs that attract the most talented students.”

CPE has redoubled efforts in recent years to meet Kentucky’s workforce needs through high-quality innovative programs that position students to succeed. The Council’s strategic plan calls on institutions to remain nimble amid workforce shortages and produce graduates who are adept at solving problems, innovating, communicating and embracing new technology.

CPE has also partnered with the Quality Assurance (QA) Commons in an effort to better integrate essential job skills into the academic curriculum. So far, 13 programs in Kentucky have earned a certification, which assures that students have mastered the employability skills like oral and written communication, critical thinking, adaptability and analytic reasoning.