With much of high education in a constrained situation, there are more and more discussions regarding how to operate in an ongoing environment of greater than historical constraints for much of higher education. I have talked about a number of possible alternatives to deal with these constraints in a relatively recent blog including larger class size, more adjuncts, etc. Another important part of this equation are the choices that are provided and how extensive those choices are. And here, I am writing about the choice of courses within a major as well as areas of major.
Earlier today, I had a discussion with a department chair from a well- run department that has for many years laid out a grid so that a student could plan ahead and help make sure they will graduate at the appropriate time. Included in the grid was a provision for all key courses for the major to be offered every semester. This is clearly a great convenience. However, student enrollment needs could certainly be satisfied with the majority of these courses being offered on a once a year basis and ultimately this is not, in my opinion, a difficult decision to make.
A much more difficult decision for an institution to make is whether to continue offering every major, every program both graduate and undergraduate, the institution presently provides. I , for one, appreciate a breadth of offerings especially on the undergraduate level so that students can choose or change a major—without leaving their present institution—from a wide array of alternatives. But here too, if there is not a critical mass of students, the decision to continue offering that particular major or majors or programs should be reexamined. I am not talking here about service courses but only about majors where the enrollment just isn’t there.
Two important caveats must be factored in. First, there are a significant number of courses that are pivotal to more than one major or more than one graduate program. In those cases where there is this commonality, it is important to look at the combined enrollments when determining whether a critical mass exists. On the other hand there are certain courses, statistics courses and research courses being prime example, where a department would like to have their own individual course though the methodology studied cuts across a number of distinct disciplines. On one level, I understand it. I would prefer that all the examples in these courses focus on economics. But on a more important level , since the methodology of the social sciences and business, or education, or in the sciences are virtually identical within these categories, this should be seen as an area where meaningful savings can be realized without a diminution of statistical and research sophistication.
In confronting economic constraints, everything should be on the table with the goal of meaningful savings with the least adverse impact on the education we provide.
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