MU review targets ‘low-producing’ degrees

Programs in jeopardy include computer science, foreign languages, food science and nutrition

COLUMBIA (AP) — The University of Missouri’s flagship campus is reviewing 75 degree programs for possible elimination or consolidation as the state seeks costs savings.

The state Department of Higher Education defines such “low-producing” programs as those awarding fewer than 10 bachelor’s degrees a year on average. The cutoff is five graduates for master’s programs and three graduates for doctoral programs.

The state mandate — reinforced by Gov. Jay Nixon at an August higher education summit in Jefferson City — applies to each of the four campuses in the Missouri university system as well as the state’s 31 other two- and four-year colleges and universities. But the effect on the Columbia campus, given its size, could prove the most significant.

Computer science, food science and nutrition, and three foreign languages are among the undergraduate subjects on the Columbia campus meeting the state’s criteria. Most of the academic disciplines targeted for review are master’s and doctoral programs, including higher level degrees in anthropology, classical studies, forestry, geology sciences, neuroscience, rural sociology and theater.

The state has asked Missouri and the other public colleges to respond with an action plan for their “low performing and duplicate” programs by Oct. 21.

Interim higher education commissioner David Russell said he plans to share a report with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education by early December, with a final report to the governor in February 2011.

Chancellor Brady Deaton briefly discussed the state review at a Wednesday afternoon faculty meeting in Columbia. He deemed the exercise a “first step” to determine if the school is “using our resources most effectively.”

Final approval of any program elimination rests with the university system’s Board of Curators.

Other states struggling to recover from the prolonged recession have taken similar steps.

In June, Pennsylvania’s higher education system eliminated or suspended nearly 80 degree programs with low enrollments at the state’s 14 public universities. One year earlier, Florida State University axed 10 undergraduate majors and three graduate-level programs, along with about five dozen professors.

Any worries about job security or diminished academic reputations remained private at the Columbia faculty meeting. Deaton’s request for questions from the group of roughly 100 professors was met with silence, and the meeting ended 30 minutes early.

Earlier, budget director Tim Rooney suggested that the university could absorb budget cuts as high as 15 percent — three times the amount of the most recent state-ordered trims — in fiscal year 2012, which begins in July.

The state’s budget director told participants at the August higher education summit that Missouri expects a $400 million to $500 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

Rooney also said Missouri expects to ask the state for a waiver to raise tuition by more than the annual inflation rate, elaborating on earlier comments by Gary Forsee, president of the University of Missouri system.

Forsee and other campus leaders had brokered a deal with Nixon the past two years that spared public universities from tuition increases in exchange for flat funding in 2009 and $50 million in cuts this year.

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