University officials explain why colleges cut programs

By Olivia Welshans, Staff Writer

Twenty undergraduate and graduate programs at the University were added last year, though three are set to phase down. But whether it’s adding or subtracting, all movements with programs are all “complex decisions,” said Gay Miller, chair of the campus Senate Committee on Educational Policy.

According to Miller, although it is rare, programs can sometimes become too costly to sustain. If a program cannot be maintained at the wanted quality, it can potentially be discontinued, she said.

The University of Illinois has no intention of cutting any more programs at this time, according to Miller.

However, the American Sign Language sequence within the department of Speech and Hearing Science is one University program that may be at risk of starting a phase out. Masters of Arts programs in Psychology, Economics and a Master of engineering in Bioinstrumentation were all programs that were cut last year.

In November, The Daily Illini reported that due to the sudden retiring of an ASL instructor, the program would not be able supply first-level ASL classes.

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Karen Kirk, the department head of Speech and Hearing Science, told the Daily Illini that the department wanted to consider the sustainability of the program. She said the department does not yet have an update on the program’s status.

Kelly Allison Ritter, associate dean of LAS, said academic programs can be discontinued for a variety of reasons. These reasons can range anywhere from decline in enrollments to the loss of faculty specializing in and qualified to teach in an area of study.

Termination can also occur because of decreased market demand for graduates of a particular major or new programs being created to meet changes in a discipline.

Ritter said the College of LAS is not planning to discontinue any of its degree programs at this time.

Miller said program elimination does happen at the University, but it may happen less frequently than at other smaller institutions.

In 2016, online publication Inside Higher Ed, reported that Western Illinois University cut four major degree programs including Women’s Studies and African American Studies. Despite Western Illinois University being under significant financial hardship at the time, university officials told Inside Higher Ed that those majors were chosen to be cut because of declining or low enrollment.

The process for program discontinuation starts in the department holding the program, then the college, ending at the campus Senate and Board of Trustees, Ritter said.

“There are many moving parts and many people involved in those conversations at many levels of the university to make the best decisions,” Miller said.

According to rules of the University of Illinois Senate, the department or college wanting to terminate or form a major or other academic program must first provide a place for active discussion of the change in status. This can be done by holding a public hearing within the department or college.

Following discussion, the department or college will submit a proposal detailing their intent to the Senate. The proposal should contain advice of the faculty from each level of the school, department or college, and the proposal should be voted on by the faculty before it is considered by the senate.

Miller gave an example of a typical proposal for the removal of a program with the Master in Human Factors degree, which was eliminated in 2014.

According to a proposal for its termination, the degree was left over from the Illinois Institute of Aviation, a school which was relinquished by the University due to low enrollments and high costs, later becoming a part of Parkland College. The Human Factors degree remained but took in no new students since the aviation institute closed in 2011.

The Human Factors degree was terminated, the proposal said, because of a combination of lack of student demand, faculty being appointed to other positions and teaching and research of human factors being fulfilled by other areas of study.  

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