Dan Pierce, chair and professor of history, pictured in the classroom, will teach the writing intensive course, "The Historian's Craft," this fall. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville.

After five years of state budget cuts capped by the latest drop in funding, educators throughout North Carolina’s 16-member state university system are prioritizing, consolidating and trimming academic programs. This is the first of three articles in a series on the ramifications for WNC’s universities. The second story in the series, about Western Carolina University, can be found here. Read about Appalachian State University here.

ASHEVILLE — Beset by ongoing budget cuts, UNC Asheville’s faculty senate is expected to vote this fall for a set of recommendations meant to streamline course offerings while giving students more choices in satisfying their degree requirements.

UNCA Provost Jane Fernandes expects the senate to accept the recommendations, given that the Curriculum Review Task Force, which proposed the changes in March, was composed mainly of professors. The senate will make the final decisions about any curriculum changes. (See the task force’s full report below.)

The recommendations are intended to help the university cope with reduced state funding. Since 2008, UNCA has received about $10 million less in state funds than it would have received under prior budgets, Fernandes said.

The new state budget, passed last month, is the latest blow. It stripped an additional $64 million — or 2.5 percent of last year’s appropriation — from the UNC system.

Reacting to the cuts in state funding, the UNC Board of Governors earlier this year adopted a five-year strategic plan [PDF], which calls on the system’s universities to become more efficient.

All 16 universities are reviewing, or have reviewed, their major and course offerings to see which classes can be eliminated, consolidated or otherwise adjusted. In early 2011, UNCA began its review by creating the 60-member task force, which is composed of faculty members, staff and students.

Evaluating course offerings in all university departments, the task force found that students spend more of their time (35.1 percent) completing general education requirements than they do fulfilling the requirements of their majors (33.8 percent). In addition, it concluded that many students have little or no room for electives.

The task force also found that UNCA’s curriculum was “administratively burdensome,” as it stated in its report. With the university having lost adjunct instructors because of the budget cuts, the faculty workload had grown to unmanageable proportions, the report said, threatening scholarship and effective teaching.

The task force’s recommendations are tweaks that would help the university more effectively instruct its students, Fernandes said.

For example, the task force recommended that the number of electives that students may take within the 120 required credit hours be increased from the current average of four-six hours to 20 hours. That increase would be made possible, in part, by embedding nine hours of required writing and information literacy into courses required by a student’s major.

The task force also recommended that a faculty member’s retirement or resignation trigger a review of the remaining teachers’ workload to determine whether a new hire is needed or not.

Wave of curriculum changes already underway

Some changes in curriculum have already been implemented, Fernandes said.

For example, a Liberal Studies Interdisciplinary Colloquium requirement for transfer students was eliminated in May, though it is still offered as an elective. The drama, economics and mass communications departments have each condensed multiple major concentrations into one set of major requirements. The music department recently replaced two bachelor of arts programs (general music and jazz studies) with one bachelor of fine arts program (jazz and contemporary music).

The task force’s review is the latest of curriculum reviews, which UNCA undertakes every two years. In fall 2010, the university eliminated its industrial engineering and management degree because of low enrollment. Low enrollment also prompted the university to drop the birth-to-kindergarten licensure and K-12 reading licensure tracks in its education program. The changes are helping the university’s departments of education and management and accountancy better use their faculty and resources, Fernandes said.

UNCA will continue to place a priority on its “STEM” programs, she said — those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — reflecting the concerns of state and national leaders about maintaining global competitiveness. The chemistry department, she noted, has won three highly competitive National Science Foundation grants, and enrollment in upper-level STEM classes, especially chemistry and physics, has increased “significantly” in recent years, the provost said. Proportionally, UNCA has more math majors than any other university in the UNC system, she said.

“We saw that we needed to do something,” Fernandes said of the ongoing effort to reconcile curricula with budget realities. “We needed to be sustainable. We needed to have curriculum that our faculty [without adjunct instructors] can deliver to our students, reliably, all the time, every year. So we started to move in that direction.”

See the report of UNCA’s Curriculum Review Task Force, from March 2013, below.

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Paul Clark is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at paulgclark@charter.net.

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