Academic Program Prioritization: An Existential Threat to Geoscience Departments
Institutional and Departmental Background
On 31 December 2016, the Department of Geosciences at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) was closed and admission to the bachelors of science in geology degree program was suspended. I was serving as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the time, so it was my job to make the necessary changes. Having been a member of the department for more than 20 years, managing the process of program prioritization was extremely difficult. The following review of the events that led to department closure is intended to provide a framework for understanding the context and process of program prioritization and its potential impact on other geoscience programs.
Because of its significant service function, the Department of Geosciences at IPFW experienced fluctuations in credit-hour production that were closely linked to the broader enrollment patterns of the university. Maximum enrollment occurred in fall of 2011 (Table 1). Subsequently, there was a failure to recognize the possibility of, or adequately plan for, a post-recessionary decline in total campus enrollment. Declining tuition revenue resulted in significant budget shortfalls from 2012 through 2017. In response, a campus-wide hiring freeze, voluntary early retirement programs, and non-voluntary reduction-in-force programs were all implemented. However, even these divestment plans could not keep pace with declining revenue.
The department had historically been a small undergraduate program with faculty teaching a 3/3 load. Some 40% of instructional capacity was dedicated to upper-division courses for majors and accounted for between 3% and 5% of the departmental total credit hours, while some 60% of instructional capacity was dedicated to general education courses heavily enrolled by non-majors (Drummond and Markin, 2008). The Department of Geosciences served an average of 31 majors and graduated four students per year (Table 1).
Manuscript received 10 July 2019. Revised manuscript received 23 Aug. 2019. Manuscript accepted 17 Sept. 2019. Posted 4 Oct. 2019.
© 2019, The Geological Society of America. CC-BY-NC.
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