By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — On Monday, university officials announced the proposed addition and expansion of 16 programs, along with the proposed removal of 13 — mostly liberal arts programs. While much of the focus has been on what may be cut, the focus of this article is what is being added.
According to the proposal, university officials will look to expand the following programs that have “demonstrated high value and demand in the region”
-Computer Information Systems
-Conservation Law Enforcement
New bachelor’s (or advanced) degree programs will be proposed for the following:
-Ecosystem Design and Remediation
-Geographic Information Science
-Master of Business Administration
-Master of Natural Resources
-Doctor of Physical Therapy
Christine Thomas is the Professor Dean of College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point, and points out that university budget cuts aren’t entirely new to UWSP. While rare, there have been past cuts regarding tenured faculty and program majors. Having to work recently within budgetary means with less and less financial resources has been the challenge, according to Thomas.
“The charge we were given in this situation was to build enrollment, and to find things that will bring even more students into the college,” said Thomas, who said that some of these plans have been in motion for some time.
In regards to program additions, one that stands out upon approval is the coming Master of Natural Resources Program. This is a non-traditional program that is coursework based, and may even be able to be accomplished online. This program would be offered on a cost-recovery basis, meaning no new resources or expenses would go into the program from the university, and no positions will be lost because of such an addition. According to Thomas, over 20 students are already lined up for the program, and are waiting for the application to go live.
“Bringing 20 graduate students to the university at no tax dollar expense is a good thing,” said Thomas. “– Many of these programs will completely pay for themselves.”
The ultimate goal from university officials is to increase revenue, while also increasing enrollment. In some cases, programs that are proposed to be expanded are growing too fast for the number of faculty available. One example of this program is the Chemical Engineering program, which saw enrollment double in just one year. Thomas expects that the enrollment amount will double again next year.
Trends for enrollment in natural resource programs have seen an uptick over the past few years. Students enrolled in these programs make up roughly a fourth of all students enrolled on campus, however, according to Thomas, the natural resource program is the largest undergraduate program of its kind in the country.
“We are a fine university – a great place to come get an education, and we need to make some changes because we have to be able to pay our bills,” said Thomas. “The process is really underway. Everybody will now get a chance to weigh in on the details. When it’s all over, we will still be a fine university, and a great place to get an education.”
Marty Loy is the Dean of Professional Studies at UWSP, and wants to assure community members that ‘there’s lot of good news going on’. Loy oversees such programs as health care, interior architecture, business and economics, and education.
“All of our schools are growing,” said Loy. “At the same time as a lot of the areas of humanities are seeing declines, the professions are growing — as is natural resources programs. People want to know what job they’re getting into and what they’re doing.”
New proposed majors in management, marketing, and finance are on the docket in efforts to increase enrollment and revenue. Just recently, UWSP was awarded AACSB accreditation, (Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) which according to Loy places the university in the top 20 percent of business schools in the nation.
“The next steps in that growth are majors that we’re putting into play, like management, marketing, and finance — and we’re also working on our MBA for the summer of 2019,” said Loy. “We’ve grown in the past eight years — our business school has grown from 700 students to about 1200 — with the addition of these new programs, we expect to grow our enrollment by 400-600 students over the next six to eight years.”
Another field seeing needs and expansion is the heath care field. According to Loy, the rural population is aging, while youth continue to leave the area. As a result, more health care providers will be necessary for the region. Overall, Loy states that the region is looking for more individuals in health care, accounting, business, and finance. According to statistics from Wisconsin’s WorkNet, many occupations in the state expected to see growth are in the areas of health care, marketing, finance, IT, and construction.
In the end, the ultimate goal is to marry the liberal arts with such programs that offer health care and business.
“Although we’re dropping some distinct programs, I think the idea is to strengthen the liberal arts,” said Loy. “I think there’s a differentiation here between eliminating a program that doesn’t have the enrollment to support it, and having the liberal arts. It’s important that we maintain strong liberal arts — how we do that is the question.”