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 third article in a series on the ramifications for WNC’s universities. Read about changes at UNC Asheville here. Read about changes at Western Carolina University here.
Low enrollment and ongoing state budget cuts have prompted Appalachian State University to discontinue some majors either by dropping them or consolidating them with other programs.
The changes are meant to make ASU operate more efficiently to adjust to the $34 million in reductions in state funding the university has been hit with since 2008.
“We all want to do the right thing — serve the region while being responsible stewards of the resources we receive from the state,” Edelma Huntley, dean of ASU’s Cratis D. Williams Graduate School, said in a recent email. “Our program prioritization process will enable us to determine where potential growth is while also making difficult decisions about eliminating programs that have lost demand.”
At the undergraduate level, the statistics major is being eliminated this fall but will be available as a concentration in mathematics. Majors in theater arts education (kindergarten through high school), and in French and Francophone studies, are being combined with other programs on campus.
ASU is also consolidating the secondary science education degrees into their parent sciences. For example, students who want to teach physics in high school will now work toward a bachelor of science degree in physics with a concentration in secondary education. Formerly, they would have pursued a stand-alone degree in physics/secondary education.
The prioritization reviews of the undergraduate and graduate programs are ongoing and will likely result in more significant changes in fall 2014, said Mike Mayfield, vice provost for undergraduate education. He is directing the review of the undergraduate programs. Huntley is leading the review of the graduate programs.
Every two years, the UNC general administration reviews its 16 universities’ “low-performing” programs (as measured by the number of degrees granted and the upper classmen and graduates enrolled, among other metrics) and asks the universities to recommend how the programs can be improved, modified or eliminated. ASU has already reviewed its lowest performing undergraduate programs and is now reviewing its better performing ones, Mayfield said.
ASU’s graduate school is also in the middle of its program prioritization review and should have reports this fall, Huntley said in a recent interview.
The UNC general administration office has identified 10 ASU graduate programs as low-performing. Seventeen of the programs have enrollment levels above the minimum set by UNC but have either been low-performing in the past or are beset by such problems as too many requests for time extension, inability to recruit North Carolina students and competition from online programs. Eighteen programs have healthy enrollments and, if resources allow, could be expanded.
The low-performing graduate programs have been told to submit plans to increase enrollment. Consolidation of classes isn’t possible because, unlike undergraduate programs, graduate programs are discipline-specific, Huntley said.
One big change has already been made at ASU: The graduate program in English education has been eliminated because no one enrolled. “It didn’t look salvageable,” Huntley said. But otherwise, she said, it would be “premature” to talk about program prioritization until all of the programs submit their reports.
“We’re doing this as carefully as possible because cutting programs is a very drastic step,” she said. “We want to make sure we have all the right information before we do anything like that.”
ASU’s reviews were already underway when the UNC Board of Governors approved the UNC system’s five-year strategic plan in February 2013. The plan, which can be read in its entirety below, calls for the UNC universities to become more efficient with state allocations. Mayfield said that plan has had “relatively little influence” on ASU’s current program prioritization, something it and all UNC universities do every two years anyway.
The UNC general administration, which oversees the universities, was already calling for many of the efficiencies that the five-year strategic plan call for, Mayfield said. The plan, however, reinforced the need to restructure or eliminate low-performing programs, which in the past had been allowed to pass through reviews without having to make many changes, Mayfield said.
“Now there is a much greater sense of urgency and prioritization that will in all likelihood lead to the elimination of some of the programs,” he said. “Every campus in the UNC system is taking a broader view of all it does to find where it should invest its resources and prepare students.”
The UNC system’s five-year strategic plan, issued in February 2013.