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System looking to cut duplicate programs

The story “System seeks programs to eliminate” stated that UNC’s Slavic languages degree was eliminated by the Board of Governors on Friday, and that the department could be merged with German studies. The Slavic department is merging with the German department effective June 1. The undergraduate and master’s-level majors in Slavic languages will continue to be offered, but no new PhD students will be admitted. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for any confusion.

The UNC-system Board of Governors voted Friday to cut 60 degree programs, and other programs in the system might face a similar fate if an upcoming review deems them unnecessary.

The review, slated to begin after March 1, will encompass both undergraduate and graduate programs and consider student demand, operating cost and regional need.

Unnecessary programs might be discontinued, combined with a more productive program or converted to an online program, said Alan Mabe, senior vice president for academic affairs for the UNC system.

UNC-system President Thomas Ross requested a study to look for unnecessarily duplicated degree programs to help the system cope with a potential 15 percent — $405 million — budget reduction for the upcoming academic year.

“We know that it can be cost-saving,” said Linda Seestedt-Stanford, interim provost and senior vice chancellor at Western Carolina University. “We know that it can enhance our programs.”

Looking for unnecessary programs is not an entirely new concept for the system.

Every two years, the board asks each university to evaluate programs that graduated a low amount of majors. The 60 programs cut Friday, including 36 baccalaureate programs, were a result of the 2010 review.

But the search for unnecessary duplication this year will be on a larger scale and will be conducted by a central committee headed by Jim Woodward, the former chancellor of UNC-Charlotte and N.C. State University, instead of individual schools.

“This is a chance to stop and look systematically at it,” Mabe said.

Waiting on parameters

Administrators agree that program duplication is not always a bad thing.

The 16 UNC-system universities offer 17 English undergraduate degree programs and 19 history programs.

But classes in these disciplines are necessary for a liberal arts education, so they aren’t considered unnecessary, said Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost at UNC-CH.

Determining if a program is an unnecessary duplication will depend on student demand, its proximity to schools with a similar program, and a campus’ ability and willingness to provide the program.

But unnecessary duplication has not been defined, and administrators are still waiting on word from Ross, said Stephen McFarland, vice provost for academic affairs at UNC-Wilmington.

“The parameters have not yet been identified,” McFarland said.

There are no standardized criteria for the process, Mabe said.

“There’s a little bit of relativity here,” he said.

Potential impact on UNC-CH

The 2008 report of low-productivity programs identified six of UNC-CH’s baccalaureate programs as having low enrollment, including comparative literature, Slavic languages, interdisciplinary studies, biostatistics and environmental health sciences.

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The report recommended the University work to increase enrollment in its comparative literature, Slavic languages and biostatistics programs. It acknowledged low enrollments would likely continue for the other two.

The Slavic languages degree was eliminated by the Board of Governors Friday, and the department could be merged with German studies.

Carney said a program’s security depends on the number of graduates it produces and how its graduates fare on professional exams.

Passing rates and academic rankings are consistently high for UNC-CH’s programs, he said.
“I can’t see any programs here that are on a large scale at risk,” he said.

The University offers the only baccalaureate programs in comparative literature and biostatistics.

N.C. State, UNC-CH’s neighbor, also offers degree programs in interdisciplinary studies and environmental science. Four other universities in the system offer interdisciplinary studies majors, and six others offer environmental science.

Carney said a sharing of resources among programs in the Triangle — like the library partnership among N.C. Central University, NCSU and UNC-Chapel Hill — might be created, but he said he does not think programs at the University will be cut because it is the best-performing school in the system.

“I can’t imagine that would happen here,” he said. “I can’t imagine programs at State being cut either.”

Evaluating student demand

N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University’s baccalaureate degree in French was among the degrees nixed by the board Friday.

The university suggested discontinuing the program, said Wanda Lester, interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at N.C. A&T.

French classes will still be offered, but students will no longer have the option of majoring in French, she said.

“I think it’s going to save money in terms of administrative roles that may be associated with it,” Lester said.

She said she would be willing to reduce more programs in a similar fashion in order to more effectively use the university’s resources.

Cutting programs that don’t produce many majors is one approach to eliminating unnecessary duplication, said Jon Young, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Fayetteville State University.

“If it doesn’t have many graduates, then maybe that’s a sign that it’s not necessary,” he said.
Considering necessary costs

English and history degree programs are both classified by the system as category one programs, which are the least expensive ones to operate. Programs are rated from category one to category four, and art and science programs have higher operating costs.

UNC-CH’s baccalaureate program in radiologic science — the only one in the system — is expensive, and most of the program could be offered online, which would save money, Mabe said.

“We’re looking at some innovative ideas as we have to deal with budgets and that sort of thing,” he said.

For high-cost programs, administrators must assess if it’s necessary to have more than one program producing graduates in that discipline, McFarland said.

“The question to ask is, ‘what are the needs of the state?’”

Meeting regional need

Western Carolina University’s students serve a distinct region of the state, and it wouldn’t make sense to consolidate them Stanford said.

“With the budget being the way it is now, I think we have to go to the next level,” Stanford said. “That may include collaborating.”

Young said FSU’s nursing program is necessary because the surrounding region is in need of minority nurses, and the university is a historically black college.

The program also reaches out to more remote populations through online education, he said. An online baccalaureate degree in nursing through FSU is in the planning stages.

“We want to make sure we’re offering courses that are specifically targeted to where they’re needed,” said Marshall Pitts, a member of the Board of Governors.

“You’re talking more of a consolidation,” he said. “In less frequent instances you’ll have some cuts of programs.”

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