Arts taking hard look at programs with soft enrolment

Faculty aims to shift resources to keep programs attractive to students, says dean.


In an effort to better meet student needs and ensure resources are available where they are most needed, the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts is proposing to suspend admission into 14 programs or concentrations with declining or no enrolment.

“It’s really important in the context of good management of programs to look on a continuing basis at how attractive all of our more than 90 programs are for students,” said Lesley Cormack, dean of arts. “This isn’t about budget cuts or saving money. No one is losing their job. This about ensuring that our programs are attracting students.”

The programs facing possible suspension are majors in Latin American studies, Scandinavian studies, the composition and theory concentration in the BMus and the computing science and printmaking routes through the BDes.

As well, it is proposed that honors programs will no longer be offered in classical languages, creative writing, history and classics combined, religious studies, women’s and gender studies, comparative literature, French, math, Scandinavian studies.

Cormack said decisions on viability are not taken lightly. Each of the programs named have had 10 or fewer students enrolled as majors in each of the eight fall terms between 2009 and 2016.

There are currently 30 students enrolled in the affected programs and each of them will be able to finish their degree as originally planned even if the programs are suspended.

Cormack stressed that the process is in the early stages. Faculty members still have an opportunity to advocate for and possibly save programs nominated for suspension. A rigorous governance process, which includes student representation, will ensue before any decision is made.

Cormack pointed out the changes won’t affect students entering the faculty this coming September. Rather, any proposed change will only take effect beginning in September 2018.

Furthermore, regardless of the possible changes students will still be able to take courses within the affected program areas.

For example, Cormack said that although the Scandinavian studies major has had only five students per year over the past eight years, there have been very robust enrolments in individual courses in that area. The course on Vikings, for instance, regularly has more than 80 students.

She said it is also important to recognize that the list is made up mostly of honors programs, which are a subset of the larger major that offers an opportunity for undergraduate research, one-on-one supervision and standing as a junior member of the department.

Students will still be able to take courses currently included in those programs.

Cormack added that an honors degree used to be a very important route into graduate school, but when that requirement was dropped by many universities across North America in the early 2000s, the faculty saw a decrease in the number of people taking honors programs.

And though the Faculty of Arts still attracts the same number of students it always has—about 5,800 undergraduates—Cormack said the trend over the past decade has been a move toward the social sciences and less toward the humanities.

“I believe we are better off to have fewer programs that are clear to students and that attract their interest,” she said. “I also think today’s students are really interested in having experiential opportunities that give them skills to go out into the workforce.”

With that in mind, the faculty is now offering a series of co-op programs, expanding its community service-learning opportunities and encouraging students to have international experiences.

This change has also meant expanding to address the popularity of other programs including East Asian studies, particularly its Japanese and Korean offerings. The faculty also offers a certificate in gaming and is in the process of developing a media studies degree.

Cormack said program offerings will be continuously reassessed to ensure programming remains current and robust, as it always has. In 2013, the faculty suspended a dozen programs whose popularity waned.

"I think it is important for faculties to look at their programs and ask, 'Is this the best way to attract and engage students?’”