CHAPEL HILL — The UNC system eliminated 60 underperforming academic programs across the state Friday - a declaration of its desire for a more efficient university.
It isn't unusual for the university to shut down programs with low enrollment; it does so every two years. But it is rare for so many programs to get the ax at once. And in many cases over the years, just as many new programs are approved as are eliminated.
Not this year. On Friday, just three new programs won approval.
"We've gotten more aggressive about it now, and have forced our institutions to really look at their missions," said Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the UNC system's Board of Governors, which sets policy for all public campuses.
The system killed off low-enrollment programs producing few graduates. Their deaths were met largely without protest.
"We had not been doing it," said N.C. Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms. "There's a tendency to hold on to degrees after they fulfill their missions."
It's difficult to calculate the savings derived from the discontinued programs because some of their courses are still needed, and in many cases, faculty members remain to teach other disciplines. But officials expect to save money in the future as campuses operate more efficiently. Friday's eliminations come with the UNC system on the cusp of a broad, campus-by-campus analysis to root out unnecessary duplication within academic programs.
The system's new emphasis on academic efficiency is forcing campuses to focus on their strengths and bid goodbye to programs on the periphery.
NCCU loses about a dozen programs in areas like art, education, physical education, chemistry, French, history and physics. That doesn't mean those disciplines have been wiped out. Rather, many are sub-specialties that may now be combined with other disciplines. One example: An NCCU degree in K-12 theater arts education was eliminated, and the university will instead offer it as a concentration within the theater program.
N.C. State, too, is forced to focus more on its strengths. Its best education areas are science and math, thus it will continue those, said Chancellor Randy Woodson. Several other graduate education courses in middle grades education and curriculum and instruction were discontinued.
"We decided there are areas of education others can do better," Woodson said. "It's a reflection of our having to think systemwide of what we can and can't afford to do."
Seven programs were eliminated at UNC Charlotte, including teacher licensure programs in English, French, German and Spanish. These can still be offered in other ways, said Chancellor Phil Dubois. Those programs each had just a few students.
UNC-Chapel Hill officials also made some tough decisions. One of the four cuts there was a well-regarded doctoral program in linguistics serving just a handful of students, said Chancellor Holden Thorp.
"It's a distinguished program, but you don't get any economies of scale," he said. "There are people in linguistics around the country pretty irritated with me."
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