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PSU clarifies program discontinuation recommendations

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Last week, Pittsburg State University announced its recommendations to the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) on the future of various academic programs — including recommendations to discontinue several of them. 

On Monday, the university issued a revised press release “that better explains the situation and gives a more complete look at the changes,” it said, noting that its announcement last Friday “led to many questions and concerns.”  

Out of 25 of PSU’s “programs” — a word that was changed to “majors/emphases/degrees” in the updated release — “that have been identified in the past year as having a low enrollment and a small number of annual graduates,” the original release said, “the following are on the list to discontinue: Graphic Design; Clinical Science/Medical Lab Tech; Spanish Language and Literature; Bachelor of Arts degrees in Mathematics and History; and Teacher Education in French Language, Psychology, Spanish, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Family and Consumer Sciences/Home Economics, Mathematics, and Communication.” 

Rather than saying these programs are discontinuing altogether, though, they instead “were on the list to discontinue, be transitioned into something else, or have already been phased out,” the university said in its updated release. 

The Clinical Science/Medical Lab Tech major, for example, “will transition to an emphasis within the Biology content area,” according to the newer release. 

While Bachelor of Arts degrees in mathematics and history have been eliminated, the university emphasized that students can still earn Bachelor of Science degrees in both subjects. 

With the exception of the Teacher Education in Psychology degree, which was discontinued by PSU’s psychology department in 2014, the other teacher education stand-alone majors listed last week among those being discontinued are actually being turned into emphases within their related content areas. 

The Spanish language and literature major “was discontinued as a stand-alone degree when the Modern Languages degree was formed a few years ago and all of the foreign languages merged into one with four emphases,” the university said in its updated release. “So, a student now will major in Modern Languages with an emphasis in Spanish Language and Literature.” 

As far as graphic design goes, although “the existing majors and emphases in the Department of Graphics and Imaging Technologies are thriving and will continue, this piece was phased out about 10 years ago at the request of KBOR based on the federal Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) code,” PSU said in its updated release. “It was revised based on internal program review feedback and the department’s alignment with industry needs.” 

Despite the clarification, for some students who earned degrees from PSU in recent years in programs that are now being reorganized or having their degree options limited, the announcement last Friday was unwelcome news. 

Zack Wiggs, who earned his BA in history from PSU in 2018, said he was “definitely sad” to hear the degree program is being cut. 

“Back when I was in the process of getting my degree there were various cuts in available courses from year to year that made it difficult at times to complete the degree, especially for those of us who had a particular focus in the study of history,” Wiggs said in an email. 

“It's a tough choice to cut any program but seeing this one being phased out is unfortunate. As well as many others on the list,” Wiggs said, adding that there were “genuinely intelligent and caring professors” in PSU’s history department. “I believe the study of history to be valuable in and of itself but especially so with some of the current events we've seen take place,” he said. 

Besides program reorganizations and discontinuations, PSU also announced it was recommending several programs “be allowed to continue because they support other academic programs through general education courses,” including business economics, modern languages, geography, music performance, physics, political science, and sociology. 

Dylon Villines, who graduated from PSU last year and majored in political science, like Wiggs, was unhappy to hear of the program changes. 

“I think the fact that they’re increasing tuition and fees and making us pay for more and more and more for less and less and less, especially during Covid — they’re not giving us more education,” Villines said. “It’s not like they’re ramping up any sports or anything like that. There’s no trade-off for this.” 

From the university’s perspective, though, there are indeed important trade-offs to consider. 

“Our Bachelor’s in Music Performance currently doesn’t generate enough credit hours to cover expenditures, which is of concern to at least one board member,” PSU Provost Howard Smith said in the university’s updated press release. “But we feel like it’s strategic to our mission, it provides a significant contribution to our community, and serves our mission in providing a transformational experience for our students. We will look at ways to make it more efficient.” 

PSU will “look at costs associated with all programs and continue to assess if there is any way for them to be more efficient,” Smith said. “We’re probably going to have to eventually cut some things that provide a benefit, but we have to look out for the whole institution." 

Programs PSU is recommending to continue include the interior design program, “because it is considered new under KBOR guidelines,” according to the release. “It was moved from the Family & Consumer Sciences Department to the School of Construction in 2016; prior to that, it had fewer than 15 majors. Upon its move, enrollment climbed to 31 and has climbed to 46 this spring. Enrollment for fall is projected to be 50 students, Smith said."

PSU recommends “continuing to monitor the International Business program before eliminating it because of extenuating circumstances: it was a program largely pursued by international students, who in recent years have faced challenges in getting here, including the now year-long pandemic,” according to the release. “Administrators in that program will consider how to market it to domestic students, Smith said."

The university is also recommending the continuation of two interdisciplinary programs, integrated studies and polymer chemistry, because although few students are enrolled in them, “they reflect an institutional attempt to maximize resources among departments and they bring in dollars through grant awards,” the release said. 

The next step for PSU’s program recommendations will be consideration by the full Kansas Board of Regents in March, at which time the board can reject, modify or accept them.