A working group of faculty at the University of New Orleans has recommended eliminating three degree programs and restructuring another 25 in a report that marks a key milestone in a review process designed to assess the financially hard-pressed school’s strengths and find ways to cut costs.
Relying on criteria it developed, the faculty group scored UNO’s 80 degree programs to determine which ones should be given more funding and which should be restructured or eliminated. It decided nearly 30 should be eliminated, merged or restructured.
Tuesday’s report outlined the group’s recommendations for which programs it said fit with UNO’s long-term mission, considering factors such as student demand and each program’s size, graduation rate and tuition revenue.
The final decisions will rest with UNO President Peter Fos, who could go along with the group’s recommendations or add his own ideas for increasing or reducing the number of programs on the chopping block. His recommendations then will need approval by the board of supervisors of the University of Louisiana System.
The only programs eyed for complete elimination by the faculty group are those leading to bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, elementary education and mild moderate disabilities, and to doctorates in political science.
In a six-page report outlining its recommendations, the group said its conclusions were based on “enrollment patterns, expected future demand for the program and anticipated trends in future workforce needs.”
“Only programs that were deemed unable to remain viable were placed into this category” of those recommended for elimination, the report said.
The fate of the 25 degree programs recommended for restructuring or merger is unclear. Faculty of each program are required to submit a restructuring plan to the working group by late spring. They include bachelor’s programs in anthropology, international studies, philosophy, political science and Romance languages; master’s programs in history, political science and sociology; and three doctorate programs in education — curriculum and instruction, educational administration and special education.
“In order to remain competitive, programs in this category (of those proposed for merger or restructuring) must create new operating models,” the report said, in part blaming external pressures like declining state higher education funding, low enrollment and changes in the workforce climate for the university’s need to retrench.
Some of the programs may be merged or transformed to focus on specific high-demand areas, or they may be discontinued altogether, the report said.
A third category in the report listed programs recommended to be enhanced or sustained, though the committee has yet to differentiate between those two categories; that process is ongoing. Those programs include bachelor’s degrees in English, film and theater, fine arts and history; master’s programs in English and in hospitality and tourism; and doctorate programs in chemistry, financial economics and urban studies.
Richard Hansen, UNO’s interim provost, also issued his own recommendations, which mostly fell in line with the faculty group’s but additionally called for closing the master’s programs in political science, Romance languages and special education; and the doctoral programs in education curriculum and instruction and special education. Hansen suggested creating a concentration in political science within a new master’s program in social sciences to make up for the proposed elimination of the master’s degree in political science.
The faculty group had released an initial scorecard last month on how the programs fared based on its criteria.
Programs that received top marks in that review included undergraduate programs in biological sciences, psychology, mechanical engineering, and hotel, restaurant and tourism administration. Among those at the bottom of the ranking were undergraduate offerings in secondary teaching and early childhood education, as well as master’s degrees in engineering management and financial economics.
The group’s review measured a program’s demand by considering enrollment, trends in academia, the number of students who graduate from the program and the general outlook among committee members on the program’s projected future enrollment. Different criteria were used to evaluate bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.
In an interview Tuesday, Matthew Tarr, a UNO chemistry professor who chairs the committee, said the review has been “an ongoing process with a goal of strengthening the university, and the whole idea is to find the right set of programs that will allow this university to serve its constituency into the future.”
Tarr said the programs marked for restructuring or merging are largely “good programs that haven’t been arranged properly to capitalize on the potential markets,” plus “some other programs that may end up not doing well into the future and may be merged with other programs.”
For his part, Hansen said Tuesday that he didn’t set out to issue his own recommendations. “I can take a little different view,” he said. “I was involved throughout the entire process with the faculty and deans, but as chief academic officer, it’s important to keep a certain perspective.”
Both Tarr and Hansen said they were unsure how much of a savings their recommendations would realize for the cash-strapped university, which has struggled with deep cuts in state spending for higher education and an enrollment that has fallen sharply over the past decade. Fos has said he is looking for ways to bring costs in line with what an institution of UNO’s reduced size can afford.
One department that appeared hard-hit was political science, with Hansen recommending both the master’s and doctoral programs be eliminated, potentially calling into question the future of the acclaimed UNO Survey Research Center, which collects information about public opinion on a range of economic and political issues.
Hansen said he didn’t “have a good feel for that yet.”
“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “It’s a valuable piece of the work that the community uses, and that we value, but I think it’s too early to tell.”
The center’s director, Ed Chervenak, declined comment.
Faculty and students will know if their programs are being cut by the beginning of the spring semester, Fos has said. Layoffs are likely to follow any changes, which will begin taking effect during the spring 2016 semester.
Editor’s note: This story was altered on Nov. 12 to reflect that it was UNO’s bachelor’s program in elementary education and mild moderate disabilities, not its bachelor’s program in elementary education, that was proposed to be eliminated.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.