West Virginia University (WVU) has released its preliminary recommendations for academic program reductions as it seeks to close a budget deficit currently projected to be about $45 million. The recommended cuts include 32 academic programs, and 169 faculty positions.
The recommendations follow an internal Academic Program Portfolio Review for the Morgantown campus launched by the Provost’s office in early July. As part of that process, the university reviewed several enrollment, financial and performance metrics to decide which programs would undergo further evaluation.
At the time, 128 programs were flagged for a full review with one of the following four recommendations as possible outcomes:
• Continue the program at the current level of activity with no recommended changes;
• Continue the program but with changes, including the possible reduction of faculty positions;
• Develop a “cooperative program” by potentially merging one or more programs to create a new program/curriculum;
• Discontinue the program after a “teach out” of current students is completed.
This week the results became known, and the recommended cuts are staggering, particularly considering that WVU is the flagship higher education institution for the state of West Virginia.
Per the preliminary recommendations, 32 of 338 majors offered on the Morgantown campus have been recommended for discontinuation.
- Of the programs slated for closure, 12 are undergraduate majors, and 20 are graduate-level majors.
- The cuts were estimated to affect 147 undergraduate students and 287 graduate students according to current enrollment figures; in total, that represents less than 2% of total student enrollment.
- The preliminary recommendations also included the potential reduction of 169 potential faculty lines, equal to about 7% of total faculty at Morgantown. Some of those retrenched lines were in academic programs that were not being closed but were asked to reduce course offerings or adjust student:faculty ratios like the College of Law and the PharmD program in the College of Pharmacy.
“While we view these preliminary recommendations for reductions and discontinuations as necessary, we are keenly aware of the people they will affect,” said WVU President Gordon Gee, in the announcement. “We do not take that lightly. These faculty are our colleagues, our neighbors and our friends. These decisions are difficult to make.
“However, the Board of Governors charged us to focus on what will best serve the needs of our students and our state,” added Gee, who earlier this week revealed his intention to step down when his contract ends on June 30, 2025. “Students have choices, and if we aim to improve our enrollment numbers and recruit students to our University, we must have the programs and majors that are most relevant to their needs and the future needs of industry. I have said many times higher education is at an inflection point. We are addressing the many challenges that higher education is facing so that we can be an even stronger university in the future.”
According to the university, the recommendations “were made through a holistic, data-informed process” that included:
• Review of enrollment trends, instructional activity and efficiency, and financial data;
• Unit self-study reports;
• Feedback from deans and college leadership.
WVU senior leadership then reviewed and approved all the preliminary recommendations. Some of the programs recommended for the chopping block were:
- MA in Higher Education Administration
- PhD in Higher Education
- EdD in Higher Education Administration
- BA in Art History
- Several programs in music, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels
- MFA in Acting
- BS in Environmental and Community Planning
- Undergraduate and graduate programs in Landscape Architecture
- PhD programs in Natural Resource Economics and in Resource Management
- MFA in Creative Writing
- PhD in Mathematics
- MLS in Legal Studies
- MPA in Public Administration
- BA programs in Chinese Studies, French, German Studies, Russian Studies, and Spanish
- MA in Linguistics
- PhD in Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences
Another recommendation was to dissolve the entire Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, ending all its academic programs, based on data showing that student interest in those majors was “very low and declining.” All faculty lines in this department would eventually be eliminated.
In addition, WVU said it’s reviewing plans to drop the language requirement for all its majors, joining a growing list of universities it said had made a similar decision (the report cites Amherst College, the University of Alabama, Duquesne University, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University as examples). For students who still want foreign language instruction, WVU might develop a partnership with an online language app or an online partnership with a fellow Big 12 university.
The remaining timeline for acting on the recommendations is fast, to the anger and dismay of many WVU faculty. Department chairs and faculty have only until August 18 to file an intent to appeal a recommendation for program reduction or discontinuation. That appeal process and additional campus discussions are scheduled for the next few weeks, and then the WVU Board of Governors is expected to vote on the recommendations at its September 14-15 meeting.
The past two years have seen an acceleration of college closures, major cutbacks in staff and faculty, and academic program reductions as institutions fight to stave off financial peril brought on by sagging enrollment, surging inflation, prior overspending, and – in some cases – reduced state appropriations.
While most of those crises have been at small private colleges and regional public institutions, the plight of West Virginia University sounds the warning that severe economic problems are no longer confined only to those corners of higher education. They are now threatening major research universities as well, and no one should be surprised if they continue to do so.
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