Campuses to weigh future of degree programs

Friday, September 26, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The University of Missouri's review of degrees offered at its four campuses is taking a closer look at the future of 48 programs, two-thirds of them graduate programs.

A university system analysis of more than 600 programs flagged the 48 for their high costs, low enrollments or other challenges. The greatest concentration is at the Rolla campus, and the discipline with the most programs under scrutiny is physics.

Committees on each campus are deciding what to do about the programs, which could be improved, merged, eliminated, closed to new students or left alone.

The university periodically reviews its programs. But state aid cuts that have strained budgets of all of Missouri's public colleges and universities have made the review more urgent.

Last week, Southeast Missouri State University, in Cape Girardeau, announced a review of its 18 programs with the fewest students majoring in them.

Of the 90 degrees offered at Missouri-St. Louis, seven are up for review, including bachelor's degree programs in French and German.

"It is not clear that we will be able to maintain those two languages as major fields of study," said Jerry Durham, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the St. Louis campus.

Also under scrutiny is the St. Louis campus' doctor of philosophy degree in nursing, which is offered by interactive television in cooperation with the campuses in Columbia and Kansas City.

"It's not that there's not a demand for the program," Durham said. It's being held back, he said, by shortages of funds and of faculty with nursing doctoral degrees themselves.

Doctoral programs account for more than a third of those under scrutiny. Durham said that's probably because they typically have the smallest enrollments and classes, making them relatively costly.

Todd Hubing, an engineering professor at Rolla who heads the committee looking at degree programs there, said some doctoral programs may appear weak only because they are just gearing up. He said that's the case with Rolla's relatively new doctoral program in computer engineering. There are a lot of students in the program, he said, "but it takes a while for people to get through to receive a Ph.D."

Like the Columbia and Kansas City campuses, Rolla is examining some of its physics degrees. According to the latest data from the American Institute of Physics, this is a field where students nationwide earned only 4,091 bachelor's and 1,157 doctorates in 2001. Both totals are down by more than 20 percent from peaks 30 years before.

Hubing said that although physics is required for many Rolla programs, few students major in it. The same goes for English and economics, also on the list for the Rolla campus.

Although officials insist their aim is not to eliminate programs, Durham said cuts aren't "outside the range of possibilities." Hubing conceded that at some point some degree programs "probably do become obsolete or inappropriate for the campus."

Six program are being checked at the Columbia campus -- in art history and archaeology, theater, exercise physiology, entomology and industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

Programs being audited at Kansas City include physics, political science, sociology and the urban leadership program in the School of Education.

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