Collaboration could be key to keeping underachieving programs in Missouri universities

Monday, October 4, 2010 | 10:21 p.m. CDT; updated 11:36 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 7, 2010

COLUMBIA — Missouri's public universities have until Oct. 21 to give the state's department of higher education their plans for the future of degree programs with low numbers of graduates.

Public universities have received a preliminary list of degree programs the Coordinating Board for Higher Education considers "low-producing." The department defines these as fewer than 10 graduates per year for bachelor's programs; five per year for master's programs; and three per year for Ph.D. programs, when averaged over the past three years.

The universities are waiting on a final list of degree programs that the board wants them to reconsider.

Some universities, such as Truman State University, are waiting on the final list of programs before deciding how they'll move forward, Truman's Provost Richard Coughlin said.

Southeast Missouri State University Provost Ronald Rosati said the university evaluates all programs at least once every three years. The system looks at the number of students who graduate from a given program, the cost of the program and work force trends to determine if a program with a low number of graduates is worth maintaining.

University of Missouri-St. Louis Provost Glen Hahn Cope said there are many things to consider when evaluating a low-producing program. A relatively new program might not have been around long enough to reach its potential, she said. She added that some course requirements overlap heavily with those of another degree program, which might have little cost to a university.

MU has 75 degree programs under review.

Sometimes a program isn't graduating many students because shifting trends have made it less relevant. Rosati said Southeast Missouri State suspended the Management Information Systems program in 2009 after changing technology threatened the value of the degree. The program had a 75 percent enrollment drop the five years prior.

"(Students) vote with their feet," Rosati said. "If society changes, then we have to stay up with those changes."

Some low-producing programs are in academic areas that university administrations are reluctant to do away with, such as economics and engineering. In these cases, some Missouri universities are choosing to collaborate. Rosati said Southeast Missouri State has discussed combining classes with Northwest Missouri State University, Central Missouri State University and Missouri State University using technology, such as online classes, webinars and real-time interactive video.

Collaboration introduces new challenges to participating universities, which must determine details such as who will get to teach the class and how tuition money will be divided, said John Catau, associate provost for undergraduate education at Missouri State.

Douglas Dunham, provost of Northwest Missouri State, said some students have expressed concern that their programs will be terminated, but some professors see the requirement as an opportunity to evaluate academic priorities and reallocate resources to better serve students.

"It's part of a process to make sure we're good stewards of our resources," Dunham said.

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