In February 2022, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) announced Reimagining LAS, a multi-year initiative to transform the college into a financially sustainable, student-centered home for learning and research. The initiative addresses an annual budget deficit projected to grow to $15 million by 2025 due to changes in the higher education landscape such as declining enrollment and students bringing more credits to campus.
Reimagining LAS realigns resources and program offerings with student and workforce demands. This includes right-sizing some programs and initiatives, while pursuing strategic growth opportunities in other areas that show promise.
In March 2022, LAS department chairs began work on individual plans that would enable them to meet the college’s realignment goals and their department budget targets by July 2025. The budget targets were set by the college, based upon historical and projected data measuring undergraduate student credit hours, undergraduate majors, and research productivity.
Department plans outlined a wide range of steps to help them reach their budget targets. To date, approximately $7.5 million has been trimmed from the $15 million goal.
“I really appreciate the hard work and thoughtful deliberation that department chairs, faculty, and staff have invested into Reimagining LAS,” said Beate Schmittmann, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Services. “It’s been an incredibly challenging process, but an important one that will prepare the college for a sustainable future.”
Faculty retirements contributed to many departments’ budget targets. Twenty-four faculty members retired in FY23, and 17 of the 24 took advantage of a special retirement program created for faculty in LAS and LAS co-administered departments.
One area of concentration in departmental plans is examining the degree programs offered. The bachelor’s degrees in speech communication and biophysics, and the graduate program in history, are all currently in the process of sunsetting, pending approval by the Iowa Board of Regents. Students currently enrolled in these programs will have ample time and support to finish their degrees.
Another area is course and curricular offerings. Departments examined historical course enrollment, teaching resources, and course delivery methods to find opportunities for improvement, assess student interest, and achieve efficiencies. Departments identified courses that could be discontinued, combined with others, or offered in a different format. They also proposed opportunities for new courses based on student and employer demand.
Some departments even re-evaluated prerequisite and degree requirements. For example, by expanding the course options that could be used to meet a meteorology degree requirement, the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences gave students more flexibility, while ensuring they still meet the requirement for a career at the National Weather Service.
“Meteorology had been actively discussing curriculum changes the past several years, but this initiative and the loss of a faculty member sped up some of these changes,” said Kristie Franz, Smith Family Foundation Departmental Chair in Geology. “It also generated new ideas for maintaining the meteorology undergraduate and graduate programs with fewer faculty.”
Administrative efforts help lower burden on departments
At the college level, programs and operations were identified for potential restructuring. Some units currently operated by LAS, like Chemistry Stores and LAS Research Information Technology, will be transferred to university control to gain efficiencies and better campus-wide support. The college is also leveraging donor and endowment resources to fund select support services provided to students and departments, such as supporting LAS’ participation in Iowa State’s Start Something network.
Innovation remains key to the reimagination process, and a recent gift will help accelerate both. The Janson-Hilsinger Innovation Fund, established by Barbara Janson (’65 mathematics) and her late husband, Art Hilsinger, provides funds to departments to accelerate curricular innovation, with the goal of providing the best possible student learning experience at an affordable cost.
Reimagining LAS helped spark a new focus on strategic growth in high-demand areas. Three new degree programs – a bachelor of arts degree in computer science, a bachelor of science in climate science, and a master’s in artificial intelligence launched in 2022.
In addition, LAS is collaborating with other colleges on campus to create degrees in integrated health sciences, game design, and financial technology, which have been proposed, pending approval by the Board of Regents. The Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication is also developing proposals for a new digital media degree and a sports media program. The degrees under development are supported by an Iowa State Jump Start Initiative, designed to expedite the creation of high-demand degrees that support the university’s strategic plan.
“Dean Schmittmann, working with her faculty and staff, has done the hard work of addressing common financial challenges faced by peers nationwide,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert. “What makes Reimagining unique, however, is the college is simultaneously positioning itself to serve the next generation of students, as well as the Iowa companies that employ our graduates.”
Plans will be implemented over the next two years, with a final initiative completion date of July 2025.