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MU identifies degree programs that could be closed, reconfigured

Monday, November 1, 2010 | 10:18 p.m. CDT; updated 7:57 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, November 3, 2010

COLUMBIA — MU has identified five programs chosen for elimination in a preliminary report.

On Friday, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton sent a report categorizing MU’s low-producing programs to the Missouri Department of Higher Education. According to the report, two programs are to be immediately closed, three are projected to be closed and 34 may be reconfigured.

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MU Provost Brian Foster said the report wasn't final — except for the two closed programs — and its findings were still being updated.

"Everything on this list is still up for discussion," Foster said. "There will be changes in that data."

The education specialist degree offered through the special education program, and the education specialist degree offered through the career and technical education program have no students enrolled. They will be immediately removed from MU’s list of active program degree offerings.

“These are programs that are not vital, active programs,” Foster said in reference to degrees with no enrollment. 

Special education department Chair Michael Pullis said deleting the education specialist degree would have a negligible impact on the department because the program has no students and requires no extra resources.

The report indicates three degrees that currently have students are projected to be closed: the master's degree offered through natural resources, the doctoral degree offered through communication science and disorders and the baccalaureate degree offered through environmental geology. Students would be allowed to complete their degrees before the programs are phased out.

Geological sciences department chair Kevin Shelton said including the environmental geology baccalaureate degree in the "projected close" category was a mistake.

He said geological sciences and environmental geology should have been combined in the report because they are under the same program. Geological sciences was listed as a low-producing program, but no action is recommended.

He said, until someone tells him otherwise, his assumption is that environmental geology won't be closed.

Faculty and students will have the opportunity to provide evidence to support targeted programs, according to the report. If administrators determine the program should be closed, however, no more students will be admitted. After current students graduate or leave the program, it will be formally removed from the active program list.

Because enrollment was so low in some degrees, removing them wouldn’t substantially impact a department, Foster said. He added that no faculty would be eliminated.

Additionally, 34 programs may undergo a “reconfiguration process.”

Deaton explained in his report that these programs don’t meet state criteria for productivity. They do, however, feature “subject matter or other critical characteristics of importance.”

The report suggests that merging or reconfiguring programs could preserve the subject matter, “achieve critical mass in number of faculty and other resources” and reduce the overall number of programs.

“The goal will NOT be to further reduce the numbers of faculty in programs where numbers are already small,” the report stated. “Instead, the goal is to sustain crucial subject matter areas in a viable program configuration.”

Foster said that although the program review discussion is centered around cutting costs, the university has already achieved savings, particularly through the hiring freeze it implemented two years ago.

“We’re not going to realize much in savings by closing programs,” he said.

The goal of reconfiguration isn’t to cut resources but to combine and strengthen programs that have low faculty numbers due to the hiring freeze, 

Foster said.

Four degrees within the department of German and Russian studies are included in the list of programs that may be reconfigured. Department Chair Timothy Langen said his department hadn't received any formal request to make any changes. He said there were no obvious ways to reconfigure the department's programs.

"But this is a discussion," he said. "If someone has a proposal, I'll listen."

The report indicates that 35 of the low-producing programs are likely to be untouched for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They are low-cost, interdepartmental programs built on courses from other programs and delivered at no additional cost. No savings would be found in closing them.
  • They are master's or educational specialist programs within a discipline that has a productive doctoral program.
  • They are programs that have been offered for fewer than five years and therefore have not admitted a full set of students. There has been inadequate time to quantify a three-year graduation average.
  • They are certificate programs.
  • They have high national rankings or stature.
  • They are critical to MU’s mission.
  • Their classification as low-producing is based on faulty data.
  • They are terminal, not master's, degrees.

Faculty Council Chairwoman Leona Rubin sent the report to faculty in an e-mail Saturday night.

“How these programs get ‘reconfigured’ remains to be determined but will involve and require significant faculty input,” she said. “Faculty Council and the Provost office are working on a preliminary process, but ultimately faculty within the units will need to work through any reconfiguration.”

Rubin said a faculty forum will be held between 2 and 5 p.m. on Nov. 12 to discuss the report and provide faculty an opportunity to give feedback and discuss how to move forward.

Foster said the conversation on how to reconfigure programs will be driven by faculty, deans and others directly involved in the programs.

“The discussion will be pretty much wrapped up by end of December,” he said.

All Missouri public colleges and universities are going through a similar process.

During the next few months, the state will analyze initial reports and consult with university officials. The state's time line calls on the higher education department to recommend what actions the institutions should take regarding low-producing programs by next Monday. The state's final findings will be submitted to the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education on Feb. 10.

The coordinating board will give Gov. Jay Nixon its report on Feb. 11.


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Comments

Kevin Shelton November 1, 2010 | 3:47 p.m.

The MU Department of Geological Sciences has no idea why its BA degree (named the BA in Environmental Geology) is listed under the “Projected Close, Active Students” category. No administrator at MU has informed the department of any reason for the listing.

The Department of Geological Sciences offers both a BS and a BA degree. If you download the spreadsheet of programs that the MU Chancellor released, you will see that the Baccalaureate degree (the BS) in Geological Sciences (Row 15) is listed as “No Action Anticipated”, meaning it's fine.

Other departments with multiple titles of undergraduate degrees are combined on individual lines (e.g Statistics) because their degrees have the same name. Evidently the CBHE numbering scheme is inflexible and can’t figure out that two undergraduate degrees with different names (BS in Geological Sciences vs. BA in Environmental Sciences) could be in the same department, so it kicked them out onto two separate lines ... and some bean counter singled out the latter one for possible elimination.

That makes little sense. In the Department of Geological Sciences, BA and BS majors sit in the same classes. There are no BA-only geological sciences classes. There is no additional cost to teach BA students, nor would there be any cost savings to not teach them.

So ... cutting the BA degree would injure students and save no money.

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