Using publicly available data, Atkins said that general math at Goucher — one of the programs to be cut — led to four degree completions in 2016. That means an entire major was supporting perhaps 12 students, or very few even for a relatively small college such as Goucher.
“It’s a tough decision; I wouldn’t want to make it,” Atkins said. “But when there’s actually no program in the first place? It’s not a cut if no one’s majoring in it.”
I know this sort of program reduction is upsetting to many in Higher Ed, but it really shouldn’t be. Goucher isn’t eliminating all courses in Biology, Math, Music and the other eliminated Majors. It’s just eliminating the ability to major in those courses at Goucher. By the university’s own accounting, those Majors have very few students in them, even for a college the size of Goucher. By eliminating these majors, Goucher frees up resources to invest in other areas that, long-term, provide a more sustainable future for the college.
We’re going to have to get past this notion that every university and college must supply every major. It’s a relic of the 20th Century, and one that, for an increasing number of SLACs and Regionals, is no longer financially viable.
However, where I think Goucher and other institutions eliminating programs like this fail is that they are half measures. They address the current financial challenges, but they don’t fundamentally transform higher education’s failing business model. Inevitably, more cuts will have to be made. And the cycle repeats until the institution goes under or undergoes M&A.
I’d rather see these institutions Roll the Hard Six. Take the risk and fundamentally rethink what it means to be a college or university for the next 100 years, not the last. Instead of piecemeal elimination of underperforming programs, why not start from first principles and rethink how the university can provide value to students, faculty, communities, businesses, not-for-profits, etc.
What emerges would look very different from what we have now. A better, more sustainable institution of higher learning. We need to start imagining that together.
If you’re interested in beginning some of this exploration of preferred futures at your institution, using a range of participatory foresight and business strategy techniques, please contact me here to discuss what that foresight and business model design process might look like.