RIO GRANDE — In a process that was reportedly started at the beginning of the year, Interim University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College President Dr. Catherine Clark told reporters with Ohio Valley Publishing Thursday afternoon, the partnering institutions are looking to discontinue multiple degree and certificate programs.
“Our message is that we are strengthening Rio’s focus by streamlining course offerings and discontinuing certain under enrolled degree programs to meet the educational needs and goals of our students and the communities we serve,” said a statement released by the president.
“We are living in an educational environment in which colleges/universities across the country, small and large, are being challenged by a reduction in the numbers and enrollment of traditional high school students and the resulting loss of revenue,” read a statement from Rio officials released on Thursday, addressing the academic program viability process. “To manage the impact on financial stability many institutions are streamlining programs, reducing personnel and operating budgets and even closing. Even without those challenges, in higher education, academic programs are reviewed on a regular basis to determine viability and future offerings. The University cannot be all things to all people; we must provide the programs that are in demand by our students, discontinue those that are not in demand as evidenced by low enrollment and focus on strengthening and recruiting students for those programs that are continued. Our students, current and future, are our customers and we have responded to what our students want, as well as responding to the employment needs of our communities.”
According to information provided by the president, “Of the programs remaining, 92 percent of the undergraduate students (96 percent of associate degree students and 84 percent of bachelor’s degree students) are enrolled in programs that remain at Rio. The programs that will continue are identified on our website at www.rio.edu at the Academics tab. The programs that will be discontinued reflect either no enrollment or single digit enrollment. Students in the discontinued programs will be able to complete their degrees in a specified period of time, enroll in an individualized degree program, change their program of study, or, if desired, transfer to another institution…Courses that are part of the General Education offerings or required of specific majors will continue to be taught.”
Clark said the the college and university are undergoing what has been called an academic program viability process, a reportedly common periodical undertaking with post-secondary educational institutions across the country which makes use of data and studies. “This was a process started in January,” said Clark. “We’re looking at five months from the time it was conceived until it was actually implemented. As far as developing the process, there were faculty members and administrators who developed the process. This was not something done in isolation.”
“Everyone wants to make sure that the programs they are offering are the ones that the students want,” she continued.
When asked if Clark knew exactly what programs RGCC and URG were looking to discontinue she said, “Absolutely. We’ve already communicated that to the faculty. It’s a little over 40 programs and we’re retaining over 60 programs. Because of the faculty contract, these are proposed…The faculty members do have an opportunity when we do retrenchment, there’s a six-week period of time that they can request another review. They can bring additional information to our attention and it can change.”
A list of proposed programs looking to be discontinued was released to Ohio Valley Publishing anonymously by unnamed faculty sources. Ohio Valley Publishing requested if the list of programs being considered for discontinuation could be confirmed by Clark. She said programs being considered for discontinuation have not been finalized as the viability process allows for faculty to appeal discontinuations.
“We’ve already had this afternoon a change in the list,” said Clark. “There can be a lot of misunderstanding with a list that can be changing over the next six weeks. I can’t say how much it will change. Especially if we’re looking to recruit potential students and talking with students about what programs we’re going to have, we don’t want to get in a situation where there’s something published that says this program will no longer be offered when it will be. It sounds like a long process, but we want to be sure that when this is finalized that it is something that has been thoroughly vetted and we have as much information as absolutely possible to confirm these decisions.”
Programs being discontinued will reportedly be finalized in six weeks.
Enrollment in fall 2019, said Clark, is reportedly projected to increase roughly 25 percent for the university while enrollment for RGCC is down. Ohio Valley Publishing requested information about previous years’ enrollment records. Clark replied she would need some time to assemble the information but would oblige the request about reduced enrollment in the past.
“Similar to the academic viability study, we’re also doing an athletic program viability study,” said Clark. “We’re developing that process right now and it will be developed with input from coaches and administrators. We feel it’s important to have the data and information that we need to make any decisions. We don’t want to make decisions without sound data behind it.”
Reportedly, in regards to the athletic viability process, staff and coaches have been identified who will be assisting in identifying metrics for the process.
Clark said that cuts had already been made with staff and administration since fall of last year. Some positions have been combined and some have not been filled through “attrition.”
When asked if RGCC and URG would be increasing tuition, Clark said, “No. No, that doesn’t solve the problem. Tuition increases…that’s not where we’re going. In fact, when we look at tuition reset, it’s not with the intention of raising tuition.”
“Streamlining programs and reducing operational expenses cannot result in long-term sustainability without additional changes,” read the statement from Rio officials on Thursday. “To that end, we are developing an enrollment management plan to identify new groups of students to recruit, a comprehensive marketing plan, an assessment of on-line course offerings, a review of tuition costs, and other opportunities that change how we operate and what we offer to students…Rio has been an important part of the communities we serve and in the lives of students for many, many years. We will continue to be a part of the communities we serve and we will continue to provide educational opportunities to students for many, many years to come.”
According to information provided by unnamed faculty sources, the faculty assembly at the University of Rio Grande took a vote of no-confidence in both the boards of trustees of the respective institutions in mid-April in how they run RGCC and URG.
More on this vote in an upcoming edition and online at www.mydailytribune.com, www.mydailysentinel.com and www.mydailyregister.com.
Edit: A clarifying fact was added saying that the university’s projected enrollment is up for fall of the coming academic year while the community college’s is down.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.