Rural universities, already few and far between, are cutting majors - The Washington Post

Rural universities, already few and far between, are cutting majors  The Washington Post

With budgets and enrollment crashing, some schools cut humanities in favor of ‘workforce needs’

EMPORIA, Kan. — When Adia Witherspoon was growing up in the south-central Kansas town of El Dorado, her single mother told her that “the only way to get away from poverty or El Dorado was to go to college.”

So Witherspoon enrolled at the nearest public four-year higher education institution, Emporia State University, about 60 miles up Interstate 35. She picked a major in earth science and started studying computer coding.

“Coming here there are so many things I’ve learned about the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned,” she said. “I mean, I didn’t know I could become a coder.”

Adia Witherspoon, a senior at Emporia State University whose program is one of many being cut because of budget and enrollment problems. (Ji Stribling for The Hechinger Report)

Then the university announced that, because of budget and enrollment problems, it was canceling her program and cutting, merging or downgrading programs and majors in English, physics, history, political science, chemistry, a dual-degree program in engineering and science mathematics, all language courses except Spanish and minors in French, German, journalism and geography.

Now, said Witherspoon, “if I was still a high school senior, I wouldn’t come here.”

Rural young people who aspire to a higher education have long had fewer choices than their urban and suburban counterparts, contributing to far lower rates of college-going. Now many of the universities that serve them are eliminating large numbers of programs and majors.

That means the already limited options available to rural students are being squeezed still further, forcing them to travel even greater distances to college than they already do or give up on it altogether.

“This is just the next in a long line of issues where rural folks are told by people who are not rural what they’re going to have and not have,” said Andrew Koricich, an associate professor of higher education at Appalachian State University and executive director of the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges.

The University of Alaska system has scaled back more than 40 academic programs, including earth sciences, geography and environmental resources, sociology, hospitality administration and theater. Missouri Western State University eliminated majors, minors and concentrations in English, history, philosophy, sociology, political science, art and other subjects. Eastern Kentucky University shut down theater, economics and other majors.

Henderson State University in Arkansas in May dropped 25 degree programs in disciplines including geography, history, political science, public administration, criminal justice, biology, studio art, communication, theater arts, English and Spanish.

Several states are merging universities, many of which serve rural students. Pennsylvania has combined three universities in western and three in northeastern Pennsylvania, consolidating programs and majors into a mix of remote and in-person classes.

* This article was originally published here

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