University Of Hartford Proposes Cuts So It Can Thrive
'Reallocation' Would Affect 200 Students, 40 Faculty
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
September 25, 2012
Facing projections of declining enrollment, a sluggish economy and intense competition in higher education, the University of Hartford plans to streamline or cut programs, while investing in and expanding others.
University of Hartford President Walter Harrison said Tuesday that the plan, prepared by faculty and staff over the past 18 months, is an attempt to ensure that the university thrives in the decades to come.
"We are doing this from a position of strength," Harrison said, "but we are being prudent in thinking about the future. To remain strong and become even better, we have to become better focused and apply resources to the strongest programs."
"We live in a very competitive market," Harrison said. "I think the market will be even more competitive" in the future.''
Details about the "Foundation of the Future" initiative were released this week. The plan would have to be approved by the university's top administration in consultation with the university's board of regents.
If adopted, about 40 academic programs would be eliminated, including the bachelors of arts in economics, modern languages, and international studies. In addition, administrative programs such as the Center for Professional Development and the Museum of Political Life would go.
The programs and administrative areas identified for strengthening include bachelor's degrees in biology, communication and psychology, as well as admissions and distance learning. Enrollment — now at 7,000 — may eventually increase as the programs identified for "investment" are expanded.
If adopted, the changes would mean "reallocation" of about $7 million of the university's $150 million operating budget. Programs under consideration for "divestment" enroll about 200 students and could affect about 40 faculty members, the university said.
"It's absolutely a time when colleges are reflecting on what we do best," said Judith B. Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference for Independent Colleges. For colleges, she said, the question is "what should we be doing and what should we not do, given the demographics and the finances and employer needs. … It's not just an economic calculus, it's broader than that."
"I'd say right now most institutions are really taking a look at where we are, where do we need to be, how do we sustain the quality in this climate," Greiman said. "There are going to be fewer traditional-aged college students in the coming years."
Overall, university task forces have recommended 17 academic and administrative programs for investment, 126 academic and administrative programs for maintenance, 61 academic and administrative programs for restructure, and 48 academic and administrative programs for divestment. An internal university report completed over the summer found that the changes were necessary because "the faculty and resources are stretched beyond what is sustainable."
Students currently enrolled in the university will not be affected by the proposed changes; they will be allowed to complete their programs.
David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, based in Washington, D.C., said many schools are undertaking "carefully planned, well-considered strategic restructuring initiatives like those at the University at Hartford."
He said it is a time of "unprecedented time of change for higher education … The baby boom echo has ended. A growing proportion of students come from low-income families. The federal and state governments face serious budget difficulties. Online learning is becoming more prevalent."
Harrison said the change will come as the university finishes its strongest decade in its history, with the 15th straight year of finishing in the black.
However, since the financial crash of 2008, the university has had to increase financial aid substantially — from $45 million in 2008 to $60 million this year — for students who cannot afford to pay the full sticker price, now at $43,000 including room and board.
"To stay competitive we have to offer financial aid," Harrison said. "We are a university with a relatively small endowment, therefore most of our financial aid, we pay through our university budget."
Harrison said that although the number of applicants has increased — it was a record 16,000 this year — the percentage of students who decide to enroll — called the yield — has dropped by about 5 percent.
Harrison said the biggest competition for the university are the state flagship schools, which are less costly, particularly if the student qualifies for in-state tuition, including the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts, Rutgers and the State University of New York system.
In addition, he said fundraising is getting harder with uncertainty about the economy; the availability of on-line inexpensive degrees is increasing; and the population of college-aged students is declining. In Connecticut alone, the number of high school graduates is expected to decline by 12 percent between 2009 and 2021.
"When I talk to colleagues around the country at private and public institutions," Harrison said, "all of them use the phrase 'sustainable financial future.' It's a phrase we do a lot of thinking about."
On Tuesday, the university held two meetings on the recommendations that were open only to the university community. The recommendations were developed over the past 18 months by two task forces composed of faculty, administrators and staff members.
The evaluation of the university's program "is long overdue,'' said Saeid Moslehpour, an associate professor in electrical engineering and chairman of the faculty senate. "We should have done it 10 years ago. It should happen every five years."
Moslehpour said he did not see many surprises in the recommendations for elimination. "It's low hanging fruit," he said. Most of the programs targeted "should have been eliminated a long time ago."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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