In the new fiscal realities of the 1990s, public colleges and universities must refine their objectives and narrow their priorities. No longer can institutions squabble over academic turf and constantly seek to expand academic offerings. There's not enough money for that any longer.
Leading the charge into this new campus reality is the University of Maryland College Park. Over an 18-month period, administrators, deans, professors and students looked over College Park's course offerings and uncovered some low-priority items that could be sacrificed. It was an agonizing process, but it had to be done.
Out of this downsizing came the decision to eliminate one entire college and seven academic departments. Gone is the College of Human Ecology (a glorified name for home economics) and the departments of agriculture and extension education; housing and design; radio-television-film; urban studies; industrial, technological and occupational education; recreation, and textiles and consumer economics.
In some cases, there has been little student interest in these offerings. In other cases, the university was unable to muster the money to make the departments adequate. And in some, the faculty was judged to be subpar.
When the downsizing is complete, the overall savings could exceed $10 million. Over $2.8 million can be recaptured almost immediately, and university officials have already reallocated some of these funds to enhance the university's honors program and to add more classes in popular courses. This latter step will help students graduate on time and lead to smaller class sizes.
It took considerable courage to cut out these programs. College Park President William "Brit" Kirwan should be commended for his willingness to pursue an unpopular but unnecessary plan. This gives Mr. Kirwan a large chunk of money that now can be used to upgrade high-priority programs and to make College Park first-rate in these fields.
Now it is up to other public four-year colleges in Maryland to emulate College Park. Over the past 10 years, these colleges have started 126 new programs but eliminated only nine. That's no longer acceptable in an era of limited resources. Why can't these schools be more like community colleges in reacting to market forces? In that same period, these two-year schools started 121 new programs yet they managed to discontinue 71. That's the kind of sensible refocusing that could prove crucial as this decade proceeds. It is a lesson College Park already seems to have learned.