Pennsylvania universities put some degrees on hold

Slashed funding prompts review

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Dozens of low-enrolled degree programs in disciplines from French and geography to physics are being placed in moratorium by leaders of Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities as they re-examine priorities amid severe funding cuts.

The State System of Higher Education briefed the faculty union Monday in Harrisburg about results of its first-ever systemwide degree review. Programs placed in moratorium on individual campuses will halt admissions but continue to exist at least long enough so existing students and those newly registered for the fall can finish their degrees.

State System officials were not immediately available for comment following the afternoon-long meeting at the headquarters of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF). A complete list of the undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs affected was not released.

But APSCUF spokesman Kevin Kodish didn't need one to predict the outcome for some faculty.

"The potential impact down the road is simple: it'll reduce staffing," he said. "It's the underlying reason for doing the review."

State System leaders, meanwhile, say they intend to encourage more of the system's 117,000 students to enroll in collaborative degree programs that would rely on courses and instructors based on more than one university.

Leaders entered Monday's meeting with plans to develop a number of "shared programs" in foreign languages like French, German and Spanish and in physics. The programs potentially would use software that enables distance learning.

Kenn Marshall, a State System spokesman, could not elaborate on the planned collaborations across the system, but on Monday word about one of them emerged: a bachelor of arts in physics to be offered jointly by Clarion, Edinboro, Mansfield and California University of Pennsylvania.

Details are still being worked out, "but the assumption is faculty members have different areas of expertise, so if someone is an expert in, say, applied physics, that person would bring that strength to the table and teach that," said Angela Burrows, a spokeswoman for California.

Ms. Burrows said the fact that professors could be more than 100 miles away from some of the students they teach would not harm the program, which she said would continue to attract students with its quality and tuition rates that are below that of other public or private campuses in the state.

"Their curriculum needs will be met, even if they are not met physically on any given campus," she said.

The program review stretching back to the fall focused most intensely on undergraduate programs with less than 30 graduates over five years, or less than 20 over five years for graduate degrees.

It was undertaken amid what some say is the worst financial challenge in the State System's history.

So far, Kutztown, Mansfield, Millersville and Slippery Rock universities have announced actual or possible work force cuts to deal with waning state support amid the recession and with the anticipated loss starting in July 2011 of $38 million in federal stimulus aid. That aid allowed the State System's 14 universities to offset cuts in their state appropriations.

The 14 schools also face major increases in their required contributions to the State Employees Retirement System.

On Western Pennsylvania campuses, at least 24 programs are being put on moratorium.

At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, largest of the State System schools, the 14 degree programs affected represent about 7 percent of the 200 undergraduate and master's programs.

According to spokeswoman Michelle Fryling, the 14 include: bachelor of arts and bachelor of science education in French and in German, master of arts in geography, associate of arts in electro-optics, bachelor of science in environmental health, bachelor of arts in government and public service, bachelor of science in applied mathematics, bachelor of arts in mathematics-economics, associate of arts in business administration, bachelor of arts in physics, master of arts in physics and master of science in disaster response.

At Slippery Rock, officials said the moratorium list includes: master of science in sport management, master of arts in English, principalship certification, master of education in physical education and master of science in nursing.

Ms. Burrows said the three California programs put in moratorium are the bachelor of arts in French, master of science in tourism and associate of science in computer science technology.

At Edinboro University, two bachelor of arts programs are affected, including one in environmental studies and geography being placed on moratorium and another in natural science-wildlife that is being discontinued, spokeswoman Amy Neil said.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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