College considers cutting six academic programs

October 1, 2015
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Calvin College opens mineral museum
Calvin College, with almost 4,000 students, is one of the nation's largest Christian colleges. Photo via

A college is considering eliminating six academic programs based on low enrollments.

Calvin College officials provided an update on the institution’s strategic prioritization plan last week in a letter to students indicating its Academic Prioritization Task Force recommended the elimination of the programs due to low student demand.

Recommended cuts

The academic task force recommended to Provost Cheryl Brandsen the elimination of the programs: architecture minor; art history major; German major; Greek major; Latin major; and theatre major.

Although those programs would be cut, several related programs and courses would be retained: art history minor; German minor; classical studies major; Latin minor; classical studies major; theatre minor; and the Calvin Theatre Company.

Michael Le Roy, president at Calvin, said while there are a number of students on campus who love the programs, most of the areas have had fewer graduates each year than there is faculty.

“To sustain that really would mean to raise tuition and add cost to student education at a time we don’t think the marketplace would be accepting,” Le Roy said.

“What we have felt strongly about is these disciplinary emphases still need to be a part of our curriculum. I think what we will be doing is getting more focused and efficient in those areas: instead of offering 10 courses in a given area, maybe reduce it to five or six.”

Students who are enrolled in the programs subject for elimination would be able to complete their degrees and depending on final board of trustee approval during their October meeting, the programs would phase out over the next four years.

The metrics

Brandsen indicates in the letter to students the college has been working to implement a prioritization plan to put the institution on financial footing by the fall of 2017 and appointing a task force to evaluate a number of programs under review was part of the process.

“I want to be very clear about two things: none of the programs recommended for elimination are being recommended because of quality concerns, and none of these programs are being eliminated, because we think they are unimportant,” Brandsen says. “These programs are recommended for elimination based on low student demand, as measured by several metrics.”

The school’s Academic Prioritization Task Force, representing nine disciplinary areas, evaluated the programs based on key metrics: graduates by program; student-to-faculty ratio by department; current majors in programs; and interest by first year and transfer students.

During the 2014-2015 academic year, two students graduated from the art history program, one student graduated with a Latin major and three students completed the theatre and German majors.

“Although the recommendations for program elimination fall on programs in the humanities, languages and arts, Calvin remains committed to these areas, and we need now to invest in their re-invention and innovation,” Brandsen says.

Prioritizing funds

As of 2012, Calvin College had an outstanding long-term debt of roughly $116 million and since then has worked to reduce the debt and restructure the institution to eliminate inefficiencies.

An update on the prioritization process in a May 2015 letter from Le Roy, indicates the institution has paid down more than $26 million in principal since July 2014 and overall debt is below $90 million.

“It has been kind of a painful effort to get to this point, but we feel very optimistic about our direction and the opportunities for our students and for the wider world we seek to change,” Le Roy says. 

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