Our Opinion: Degree programs cut; no cost savings — yet

A plan to trim degree programs at public colleges and universities is encouraging for what it is, and notable for what it is not.

The state Department of Higher Education reported Wednesday Missouri’s public higher education institutions will eliminate 116 degree programs.

The proposal marks a commendable step toward greater efficiency. It is not accompanied, however, by an estimated cost savings for the state.

“The focus of the review was on efficiency,” said Kathy Love, spokeswoman for the higher education agency. “It was not a cost-savings review.”

Scott Holste, spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon, said the governor had asked all state agencies and institutions to propose cost-saving initiatives to help him meet his constitutional mandate to balance the state budget.

He pointed out, however, that during a summit on higher education last year, Nixon called on educators to adopt a four-part agenda.

The second component was an academic program review; the fourth and final component was funding.

The academic program review unveiled Wednesday targets elimination of 116 degree programs characterized as “low producing.” The definition includes programs awarding an annual average of fewer than 10 bachelor’s degrees, five masters degrees or three doctoral degrees.

Termination of degree programs will be phased in to allow current students to graduate. In addition, cutting a degree program doesn’t necessarily mean all course offerings in the program will be eliminated.

We encourage public colleges and universities to monitor degree programs on an ongoing basis and identify low producers.

In addition, we urge the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to accentuate its mission to “establish a coordinated plan for higher education.” That may mean a greater emphasis on specialization and eliminating duplication of degree programs among public colleges and universities.

The academic review and program elimination is an important step. We eagerly await higher education’s response to the governor’s fourth component — cost savings.

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