University of Vermont

Strategic Initiatives Project

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does SIP stand for?
The Strategic Initiatives Project.

What is SIP?
SIP is a coordinated, comprehensive and inclusive effort to help identify the highest priorities and the most strategic investments that should be made to secure the University’s future in an increasingly competitive environment, and to meet the goals and objectives established in the Strategic Plan. An additional SIP goal is to identify the funding necessary for these investments. In its simplest terms, SIP can be described as developing a resource plan to support the University’s Strategic Plan.

Who is on the SIP Team?
The full list of SIP Team members, and their team assignments can be found on the SIP website located here:

When did SIP start?
Late last spring UVM’s academic and administrative leadership (the “Integrated Team”) began a series of discussions about how to better position the institution for success and sustainability in these very challenging times. In May, the Financial and Physical Planning Committee of the Faculty Senate, concerned about the likelihood of declining revenues in the future, formally advised the administration to “identify long-term structural initiatives that will result in future cost savings to better match projected net revenues.” Teams were identified and began meeting over the summer in an effort to frame a campus dialogue that would take place this year.

Why are we doing this now?
There are three main reasons for action now. The first is that we have been working on the goals and objectives of the Strategic Plan over the last several years, and we are now at critical decision/investment points in key areas including Student Success & Satisfaction; General Education; Internationalization; and Transdisciplinary Research initiative. All of these areas are worthy of investment but without careful planning the expenses could exceed our available resources. We need to decide which investments are most worthwhile, and how we will measure the return on these investments. The second reason for action at this time is the combined impact of a number of fiscal imperatives. We are facing declines in all of the following areas: demographics, public funding, affordability, and capacity for further undergraduate growth. At the same time we face increases in all of the following areas: competition for students and faculty, debate over the higher education value proposition, pace of technological change, and pressures on all revenue sources. If we are thoughtful, strategic and act now, we will be better able to manage these challenges. Finally, members of our community have argued for the development a strategic and sustainable budget that includes room for reasonable compensation increases and an end to annual, non-strategic budget reductions.

What are the components of SIP, and why did we choose them?
The SIP work is broken up into five teams. The first three are focused on identifying investments that are essential to our future success and include: Student Success & Satisfaction/General Education; Diversity & Internationalization; TRI and Research. These are three initiatives that have been underway for the last several years and are in direct alignment with the goals and objectives of our Strategic Plan. These teams will identify and recommend prioritized investments in these key areas. The remaining two teams are focused on identifying resources to support our investments. The Net Revenue Enhancement team is working on identifying opportunities to generate new revenue. The Cost Structure & Productivity Improvement (CSPI) team is working on identifying opportunities to liberate and reallocate existing revenue in support of more strategic goals and objectives.

What good will SIP do?
SIP will:

  • Strengthen and accelerate our ability to meet the goals and objectives of our Strategic Plan.
  • Align resources with strategic priorities, and a sustainable budget.
  • Promote transformative, high-impact educational experiences for our students.
  • Enhance the stability, satisfaction, and effectiveness of our faculty and staff.
  • Maintain and improve our facilities.

What role will the campus community play in the process?
Every Dean and Vice President is a member of the SIP team and has an active role and voice in the process, so your first opportunity to engage in SIP is by participating in SIP discussions within your unit. Your unit leader will share these perspectives that will inform SIP team discussions.

SIP Team leadership has also engaged the Faculty Senate and Staff Council leadership in discussions about the process. You can share feedback with your respective governance group, and you can participate in SIP discussions hosted by this group.

The three SIP Teams that are currently focused on identifying and prioritizing areas for investment (Diversity & Internationalization; TRI & Research; Student Success & Satisfaction/General Education) are meeting with key constituent groups to gather information and feedback that will inform their work. Once their final proposals have been developed, they will be posted on the web and you will be able to participate in a community comment period.

The nature of the work of the Net Revenue Enhancement and the Cost Structure & Productivity Improvement teams is inherently different than the work of the “investment” teams. They are conducting analysis and will be developing priorities and recommendations. The path each recommendation will take will depend on its unique characteristics and its governance implications. We will consult fully with the appropriate governance groups about these proposals as well.

The focus of SIP seems to be on cost-cutting within academic areas. Are non-academic areas being looked at?
It is important to remember that SIP is not a cost-cutting exercise in and of itself.
The primary and underlying basis for this work is to identify funds for investment in academic areas to allow us to achieve the goals we have established for ourselves in our Strategic Plan. We will reduce costs in some areas, and we will increase investment in other areas.

The work of the Cost Structure & Productivity Improvement team includes an analysis of resource allocation and expenditure across all sectors of the University. To bring more meaning to the analysis, the University’s functions have been aggregated into four “rings” including: Academic Experience; Direct Support of the Academic Experience; Co-Curricular Experience; and Business Operations. Every department/unit on campus – academic and administrative alike – is included in this analysis.

The SIP Team has been charged with identifying $12 million dollars in new revenue and $24 million in cost reductions. Does this mean we have a $36 million deficit?
The University does not have a $36 million deficit. However, we are facing – and will continue to face – financial challenges for the foreseeable future. We must identify resources that will allow for strategic investment to continue our advance and to strengthen the overall position of the University. We do not have a deficit, but we have not identified the resources necessary for the investments that are essential to safeguard the University’s future and its place in an increasingly competitive environment.

What financial challenges are we facing?
Our financial challenges include:

  • Declining numbers of college-aged students in our primary applicant markets
  • Decreasing availability of public funding, further exacerbated by the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene on our state
  • Having reached full undergraduate capacity, a severely limited ability to rely on additional tuition revenue from further growth of the student body
  • Increased competition within higher education
  • The need to keep pace with technological change
  • Changes in the student marketplace, including the perceived value of higher education
  • Growing concern that higher education is not sufficiently focused on student learning, rigor, and on setting high expectations of students
  • The unsustainable practice of relying on significant tuition increases, and the Board’s requirement that we find ways to lower such increases
  • The profound effects of a persistent, deep recession on our students, their families, and on our faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and friends
  • And in addition, the chronic challenges we have faced for years such as rising and unpredictable costs in health care, utilities, and regulatory requirements.

Will people lose their jobs because of SIP?
It is possible that cost reductions, reorganizations, or other recommendations that come from SIP will lead to the elimination of some existing positions. It is also possible that the recommended SIP investment will lead to the creation of new positions.

How will SIP affect the FY 13 budget process?
The FY 13 budget process will be unaffected by SIP. SIP takes a more long-term view of the University’s budget. The combined efforts of the SIP teams should, by FY 18, result in increased capacity for investment. We will, however begin generating portions of this capacity in the years leading to FY 18, and will begin making investments before then as well.

What is the SIP timeframe?
Since we don’t know precisely what the results of the teams’ work will be, it’s difficult to have a specific timeline. The general timeline includes having the three investment teams (Diversity & Internationalization; TRI & Research; Student Success & Satisfaction/General Education) identify their highest priorities for investment by the end of the February, 2012 and for that information to be available for community comment early in the spring semester. The initial work of the Net Revenue Enhancement and Cost Structure & Productivity Improvement teams should be done by March, 2012.

Are you using consultants to do SIP work?
Yes. We have engaged RNW Consulting to support SIP efforts in two ways. First, to help us understand how to organize and undertake this complex and sensitive work. Second, to provide technical expertise related to the detailed financial analysis that has been undertaken by the Cost Structure & Productivity Improvement Team.

SIP feels like the latest in a long-line of acronyms. Is SIP just this year’s passing fad?
Admittedly, the administration has been highly active since 2009. The University adopted its Strategic Plan in 2008. Since that time, we have undertaken a number of initiatives in an effort to meet the goals and objectives of the Plan. These initiatives include the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative; Student Success and Satisfaction; General Education; the International Advisory Committee as part of internationalization efforts; the First-Year Experience Task Force; and the Retention Study, among other activities. Each of these efforts ties directly to one of the five specific goals of the Strategic Plan. Many of these efforts are at critical action/decision points. SIP is an effort to consider them in a comprehensive context, to identify our highest priorities, and to make decisions that are directly aligned with the Strategic Plan. In other words, SIP will knit everything together and will align resources with priorities.

SIP seems to be one more academic program review, haven’t we done enough of that already?
The Academic Program Review process was updated in academic year 2010-11, and the new system will be implemented in January, 2012. Program Viability Review was introduced last year, but it has not yet been implemented. Strategic Value/Financial Attractiveness Assessment (SVFA) is a recently proposed process that is specific to SIP.

It may seem that there is an over-emphasis on academic program review, but that’s not the case. We now have three different types of program review, each of which serves a unique purpose, and each of which draws on different sorts of information that provides valuable insights.

Academic Program Review (APR) is the comprehensive review of program quality. APR takes place every eight years, and is conducted in the context of evaluating a program within its disciplinary values and norms.

Program Viability Review (PVR) is an annual screen in which programs that have not met minimum thresholds for enrollments and graduation rates are flagged for discussion, from which there are a range of possible outcomes. The purpose of PVR is to identify at-risk programs more quickly than is possible through the 8-year APR cycle, to allow for timely action, and to help ensure the efficient use of the University’s limited resources. You can learn more about PVR here:

The review that is a result of SIP work is the Strategic Value/Financial Attractiveness Assessment (SVFA). The purpose of this review is to look at our entire array of academic programs in the context of their contributions to our overall focus and excel strategy. Each program will be evaluated for both its strategic value (alignment with our mission and vision), and its financial attractiveness (whether or not it generates revenue or requires subsidization). This review will take place as part of the SIP process; the role it will play in the future has not yet been determined. The criteria and metrics that will be used to evaluate the strategic value of a program are being developed through an inclusive process that will involve the SIP team, the Faculty Senate, Department Chairpersons, and a joint committee of the administration and the Senate. The criteria and metrics should be adopted by the end of the Spring 2012 semester. The Cost Structure & Productivity Improvement Team has developed a method to evaluate a program’s financial attractiveness.

Last modified February 06 2012 05:14 PM

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