Capitalism and higher ed

So, after first seeing this link about canceled programs within the UNC system, I was prepared to outraged.  Then I read the story and I wasn’t (though, I open to the possibility that I should be).

Thursday morning, the Board of Governors educational planning committee voted to discontinue 46 degree programs across the UNC-System, including one at UNC-Chapel Hill: human biology. The entire Board voted Friday to adopt the recommendations voted on by the committee Thursday.

Other schools lost more programs than UNC-CH. East Carolina University and UNC-Greensboro saw eight programs eliminated each.

Junius Gonzales, senior vice president for academic affairs for the UNC-System, led the review of program productivity, which refers to the number of degrees granted in programs annually.

Gonzales said the process was inexact and that it was essential to listen to the thoughts of campus-level officials. He said the frequency of education programs being classified as low productivity due to few majors was an example of a situation where the processes of the UNC system and the interests of the state did not always align.

The share of the link I first saw referenced an end to majors that don’t lead to jobs.  But, no, what seems to be happening is an end to majors with very low enrollments at particular campuses.  That, I can live with.  Especially when I realized that two of these majors were in my own college at NCSU where we had actually discussed this:

Warwick Arden, the provost of N.C. State University, which will see four programs eliminated, said some programs that don’t give out a large quantity of degrees are still valuable, including the women and gender studies and Africana studies programs at the school, both of which will be eliminated and consolidated into less specific programs.

“While they’re not popular majors at N.C. State, they produce huge quantities of credit hours to non-majors,” Arden said.

I don’t know about this “huge number of credit hours” but I do know that these departments have incredibly few majors.  Regardless of the intellectual value, it seems pretty reasonable to me (and, from what I can tell, my liberal colleagues throughout our college) to eliminate the overhead/administration that goes with a department for an area that has only a handful of majors each year.  Especially when you consider we are part of a UNC system and students who really want that specific, unpopular major can seek it somewhere else.

So, UNC Board of Governors not so bad, but then the final line really threw me:

Board member Steven Long, who is the vice chairman of the academic planning committee, expressed concern about the labels applied to the actions, saying that words like “discontinuation” could confuse the public.

“They think you’re eliminating a lot of the cost, but we’re really only eliminating a little bit of the cost,” Long said. “We’re really not discontinuing the whole program; we’re just scaling it back.”

Long said he didn’t think the programs addressed by the report necessarily needed more scrutiny.

“We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

Ugh.  Seriously?  Hey, I love capitalism.  It’s so good for so many things.  Running a system of higher education is not one of them.  We’re not exactly churning out widgets here.  Yes, of course there should be free market principles in higher education, but when free market principles are what’s driving higher ed– as implied in that quote– we’ve got a huge problem.

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