TransformUS: Reallocating resources for future success

In 2013, the University of Saskatchewan, at the direction of the president, is undertaking a program prioritization initiative entitled, TransformUS, as part of the operating budget adjustments initiative. Strategic decisions regarding our programs will better position the university to reach our vision to become one of the most distinguished universities in Canada and the world.

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For more information on TransformUS from the task forces, please visit or follow the links below for specific content:
What is program prioritization?

Program prioritization, a method formulated by higher education consultant and president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado, Robert C. Dickeson, is a proven methodology for reallocating resources in tough times. Program prioritization prioritizes all academic and administrative programs supported by the operating budget simultaneously and equally against stated criteria. Based on results, decisions may be made to invest resources, make no changes, or eliminate or reduce programs or activities which rank as having lower priority according to these criteria.

Dickeson bases his case for reform on seven assumptions:

  1. Academic programs constitute the real drivers of cost for the entire enterprise, academic and non-academic.
  2. Academic programs have been permitted to grow, and … calcify on the institutional body without critical regard to their relative worth.
  3. Most institutions are unrealistically striving to be all things to all people in their quest for students, reputation and support, rather than focusing their resources on the mission and programs that they can accomplish with distinction.
  4. There is a growing incongruence between the academic programs offered and the resources required to mount them with quality, and most institutions are over-programmed for their available resources.
  5. Traditional approaches, like across-the-board cuts, tend toward mediocrity for all programs.
  6. The most likely source for needed resources is reallocation of existing resources from weakest to strongest programs.
  7. Reallocation cannot be accomplished without rigorous, effective and academically responsible prioritization.

Typical steps in the program prioritization process include:

  • Selecting the task force members and leadership for the initiative
  • Reviewing the institutional mission
  • Defining what constitutes a program - According to Dickeson, a program is “any activity or collection of activities of the institution that consumes resources (dollars, people, space, equipment, time).” Programs are not departments and are narrower in terms of their focus. For example, a program would be an area of focus within a specific academic or administrative department, such as a major, minor, program option or co-op option. (Dickeson, 2010)
  • Selecting appropriate criteria. Criteria described in Dickeson’s book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance (revised and updated, 2010), are:
    • History, development and expectations of the program
    • External demand for the program
    • Internal demand for the program
    • Quality of program inputs and processes
    • Quality of program outcomes
    • Size, scope and productivity of the program
    • Revenue and other resources generated by the program
    • Costs and other expenses associated with the program
    • Impact, justification and overall essentiality of the program
    • Opportunity analysis of the program
  • Measuring, analyzing, prioritizing. Decisions regarding retention or elimination of programs are made by the highest authority within the university, and within the university’s existing governance structure.
  • Implementing program decisions

The process followed is open and transparent and is supported by a comprehensive communications strategy.  The overall outcome should provide for increased understanding of the various programs and services and their roles and functions within the university.

What is TransformUS?

TransformUS is the University of Saskatchewan program prioritization process, modeled on the methodology described by Robert C. Dickeson, and adapted to meet our university's specific needs.

Over the course of 2013, two task forces will be responsible for preparing a report under the sponsorship of the provost and vice-president academic and the vice-president finance and resources. The Academic Program Transformation Task Force (APT) will set criteria and review all academic programs offered through the university. The Support Service Transformation Task Force (SST) will set criteria and review the administrative support programs both within the academic units and administrative units.

The APT will be comprised of faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students. The SST will be comprised of faculty and administrative managers and staff.

The role of the two task forces is to:

  1. Develop criteria for ranking programs. These criteria will be consistent across all programs, with one set of criteria for the APT and one set of criteria for the SST.
  2. Develop weightings for the criteria.
  3. Develop the categorization system for determining outcomes.
  4. Collect data from all programs to complete the ranking recommendations. The prioritization/ranking process will use information that is currently available and will not be looking for new information.
  5. Complete a report with rankings for consideration by university governing bodies and decision makers by November 30, 2013. It is anticipated that the rankings will group programs and activities into four or five categories with descriptors that relate to recommended budgetary changes, such as 'consider for enhanced resources,' 'consider for reduced resources' or other possible actions.

Members of the campus community will be given opportunities for input at each milestone in the process.  

The task forces will receive information and support from a support team consisting of the Office of Institutional Planning and Assessment (IPA), ICT Data Services, Financial Services, Human Resources and Communications. The first requirement of this support team will be the collection of data from central sources to support the work of the task forces.

At a high level, our process will consist of the following elements:

  1. An announcement from the president indicating the University of Saskatchewan will embark on a program prioritization process and naming the provost and the vice-president finance and resources as the leads for TransformUs within the university.
  2. Selection of the task force members and chairs through an open, institution-wide nomination process. Members will be selected by the president, provost and vice-president finance and resources, in consultation with the leadership of University Council, with a view to a broadly representative set of members.
  3. A set of criteria will be developed for this process and shared with University Council and the general university community for input/advice.
  4. All programs and services to which operating budget resources are allocated will be reviewed.
  5. The prioritized list of programs and support services from the two task forces will be the output of the task forces work. These will be received by the president and considered by the Board of Governors, University Council and the Provost's Committee on Integrated Planning (PCIP) to inform subsequent decisions, and PCIP in particular will develop an action plan for subsequent implementation.
  6. The normal processes for program termination will be followed. University Council and its committees, and where appropriate, Senate, will be actively involved in changes to academic programs and in their final approval. The Board of Governors will be fully informed by PCIP of administrative and service changes with budgetary implications.

University Council will be invited to endorse the program prioritization process, to review and provide input on the criteria, and to participate on the task forces. University Council will also receive the reports of the task forces and recommendations on implementation from the president and provost.  In addition, attention will be paid to the existing/past processes to ensure congruence with institutional planning and policies.

There are a number of past processes undertaken at the University of Saskatchewan which have some linkages to this proposed methodology. These include:

  • The President's Committee on Renewal (PCR) 1991
  • The Program Audit Project (1995)
  • Systematic Program Review (1999)
  • Priority Determination Process (1998-2002)
  • Service Process Enhancement Project (SPEP)

There are three policies approved by Council which are also relevant:

  • A Framework for the Evaluation of Programs (1997)
  • Program Termination Procedures (2001)
  • Viable Enrolments Policy (2007)

Information regarding these past initiatives will be available more broadly in the near future.

How is TransformUS different from Systematic Program Review (SPR)?

TransformUS differs from previous work, such as systematic program review, in that its mandate is not to review but to prioritize; it is not in series but simultaneous; and it is entirely about resource allocation — we are very much aware that the outcome of program prioritization must be that the university stops doing some things and both saves and shifts significant resources. Like workforce planning, prioritization will result in changes to units, but these will be in future years as decisions are implemented.

What principles will influence the criteria against which all programs are ranked?

The specific assessment criteria and weighting will be developed by the respective task forces, and will adhere to two principles:

  1. The criteria must be holistic and take into consideration the full gamut of institutional assessment factors including qualitative and quantitative, financial and non-financial, and any other relevant measures of performance.
  2. The criteria must result in a fair assessment of all academic programs and administrative service and academic support programs ensuring that no individual programs or services are unfairly treated in the process. Once the criteria have been tentatively developed by the task forces, they will be shared broadly within the university community for comment.
What are the timelines that will be followed?

January 2013

  • On January 13, 2013, TransformUS was initiated with a letter from the president. This letter outlined the purposes of TransformUS and the general principles to govern the process.
  • The Planning and Priorities Committee (PPC) of council endorsed program prioritization as a methodology for the University of Saskatchewan and presented a motion to University Council at its January 24, 2013 meeting. The motion was approved, in principle.
    • Nominations to the task forces began on January 28, 2013.

February 2013

  • Nominations concluded for both task forces on February 13, 2013 at 12 pm.
  • The selection and appointment process was initiated by February 21, 2013.

March 2013

  • The task forces were constituted and announced by March 5, 2013.
  • The first meetings of the task forces with the consultant occurred March 18-202013. This first meeting focused on team orientation to the issues and the development of a tentative set of criteria, weightings and categorization system.

April 2013

  • The campus community, University Council and the Board of Governors will be invited to comment on the criteria, weightings and categorization system to be utilized by the task forces. In the case of University Council, there will be a discussion regarding the criteria, weightings and categorization system at their April 18, 2013 meeting.
  • The task forces will create a template for information collection from the campus community to be completed by department heads and unit leaders.

May-September 2013

  • Program heads and unit leaders will be invited to complete the templates and to submit them to the task forces for prioritization. 

Summer/Fall 2013

  • The task forces will begin to review submissions and prepare rankings for all programs and services based on information received beginning as soon as possible and throughout the summer and fall.

November 2013

  • A report on the rankings of each program will be provided to the president by November 30, 2013.

December 2013 and beyond

  • Following receipt of the rankings report from the task forces, there will be a formal process for its review by University Council and the Board of Governors. Based on this discussion, PCIP, on behalf of the university’s leadership, will develop an action plan and implementation timetable.

Decisions arising from the TransformUS process will begin to be implemented no later than May 1, 2014 with the understanding that these decisions will follow the normal governance processes including approval by Council and Senate (where required), abide by all collective agreements and laws, and that the outcomes may extend well beyond the 2016 timeframe for completion.

What happens when the rankings report is complete?

Following receipt of the prioritization report from the task forces, there will be a formal process for its review by University Council and the Board of Governors. Based on this discussion, the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning (PCIP), on behalf of the university’s leadership, will develop an action plan and implementation timetable to begin no later than May 1, 2014.

The university will ensure all students currently enrolled in programs are given the opportunity to complete these programs within a reasonable time frame. As well, when faculty and staff are affected, all laws, contracts, collective agreements and University of Saskatchewan policies will be adhered to during the implementation phase following the completion of the assessment process.

Why are we doing this?

We are doing this because the competition for budget resources is internal. This means that all existing programs and services need to be reviewed against each other to confirm their ongoing support/call on the university’s operating budget. Through the operating budget adjustment process ideas were solicited from the university campus community. Some programs or units such as education and philosophy, among others, were questions regarding their continued validity. This methodology provides an objective, bottom-up approach to ascertaining whether such programs, or similar programs, should continue to draw upon operating budget resources. The university has also determined that it will follow a deliberative approach to budget adjustments and that it will not do across-the-board cuts (which many other universities are and have been doing) or use tuition to balance our operating budget.

In making the decision to adopt the Dickeson model approach to the U of S, the university looked for other methodologies to assess our current programs against each other. The Dickeson approach emphasizes openness, transparency and participation, all of which are important considerations based on recent experiences (for example, the College of Medicine). The Dickeson approach also represents a resource reallocation process, which is one of the final elements of a robust integrated planning initiative.

How can I learn more?

Robert C. Dickeson’s book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance (revised and updated, 2010), is available at the University Library or can be purchased in the University Bookstore. E-reader versions are also available online. You will also find resources and updates specific to TransformUS at