Goucher College cutting nearly a dozen paths of study, including music, art and math programs

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A view of the campus at Goucher College. Photo by Rob Coyle, via Flickr.

In what Goucher College has dubbed an “academic revitalization,” the Towson liberal arts institution is eliminating a half-dozen programs in which students can major or minor—including in music, mathematics, physics, and elementary and special education, among others—as well as paths of study for arts, languages and religion.

The combined majors and minors being eliminated include the above, plus religion and Russian studies. The college is also getting rid of its theater and studio art majors, and its minors or concentrations in book studies, German and Judaic studies.

Here’s the full list.

The announced changes will apply to students entering after the incoming freshman class, meaning those currently enrolled or set to enroll this fall in any of those programs can continue as they planned. But starting in 2019, those study options will be phased out.

“As student needs have shifted, we need to respond by shifting our priorities as well,” an FAQ page on Goucher College’s website says. “That means new investments in some programs, the addition of new programs, and the phasing out of majors and minors that have seen falling enrollment.”

In a more elaborative message posted on Goucher College’s website, president Jose Bowen said “it was a very difficult decision to reduce our number of majors,” but that it’s based on data for student demand and completion of majors, as well as course wait lists and under-enrollment.

“It was determined that we were offering some large, over-crowded majors where we need more faculty and courses, and other majors where student interest had waned and classes were routinely being cancelled because too few students had signed up,” he wrote.

He also likened the shift to one that took place a century ago: “Goucher (like most colleges) offered (or even required) Latin, Greek, and Theology courses and there were no computer science or environmental studies courses. German was the most popular modern language and virtually no institution offered Arabic or Chinese. The English major was still relatively new.”

Nevertheless, some alumni have been taken aback by the erasure of what they argue are core study paths from the curriculum.

A faculty member whose department is being eliminated noted in an email that it “was necessary” for Goucher “to cut or significantly modify some programs that had very low enrollment,” but added, “the depth of the cuts was shocking and I worry that we have cut too deeply.”

The professor, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retribution from the college, said their department learned of the changes last week.

“These recommendations were made by faculty with some administrative input. Many of the faculty that were part of this process were in programs that were most deeply impacted.”

Goucher College spokeswoman Stephanie Coldren said in an email Wednesday night that it’s unclear how many faculty members will lose their jobs, but suggested it could be “a very small number. It might be none.”

“At this point we are anticipating that retirements, voluntary separations (or people who leave for another position) and changes in non-tenure track faculty or visiting positions will be enough to align the areas of faculty expertise with student interest,” she said.

Bowen’s letter says Goucher “will continue to offer robust math and physics courses to prepare students for careers in science, computer science, and medicine, but very few students were interested in them as stand-alone majors.”

Similarly, he said “the arts will also continue to be an essential pillar” at the school, but “the vast majority of the students who participate in theater, music, and art activities on our campus, in classes, performances, exhibitions, and in concerts, do not actually major in those fields.”

Goucher this spring announced its $100 million “Undaunted” capital campaign, the largest in the school’s history, with plans to renovate one of its residence halls and its Science Research Center, and build new athletic facilities like centers for equine education, tennis and fitness and pilates, among other changes.

In an unrelated move over two years, the college opted not to raise tuition for the 2017-18 school year for the first time in its more than 130-year history, and raised it by only $406 per semester for 2018-19.

“There is no financial crisis,” Bowen wrote toward the end of his letter, noting the school has maintained an “A-” bond rating with Standard and Poors, which assesses credit quality of bonds. “Raising costs and continuing to increase the number of options per student, however, is no longer a possibility. We are determined to offer the best education for a price more people can afford.”

Asked whether they thought there could have been an alternative to cutting programs while addressing Goucher’s finances, the professor said that’s a “difficult question,” and that they are “not privy to the details of our budget and the severity of our financial situation.”

However, they added, “I do believe that if we had gone through this process a few years ago these changes would not be as drastic and damaging as they are now.”

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
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  1. WOW, really disappointed by this since we were considering the school for my daughter next year. Back to the drawing board.

    • Heather, you need to read the announcement from Goucher. The article is misleading.Renaming the Math major as Data Analytics for example is moving the structure into the 21st century. Additionally, do you really want the college to continue to offer courses that students are not choosing? How can it remain strong (just received an excellent fiscal rating from S&P) while having courses with fewer than 5 students? This plan was developed by a committee of the faculty which was tasked with the job and worked diligently over the summer. In any situation like this, there will be people who leap to conclusions without truly understanding the issues involved. Small liberal arts colleges are disappearing around the country. Kudos to Goucher for getting ahead of the curve!

    • Thanks for reading, Jack. To clarify something you mentioned, Goucher College did not rename the math major. The major is being eliminated.

      What you’re referencing is the college’s prior decision to rename the general education requirement for math coursework. From the president’s message: “An example of this positive and well-received evolutionary change was the decision to modify the general education requirement from “math” to “data-analytics.” In the coming months, students will be asked about what new interdisciplinary and more customized programs we might add, and for feedback on proposals being developed.”

    • Heather: Has your daughter already decided that she wants to be a mathematics major? Goucher is an excellent school with a lot else to offer. Why don’t you allow her to make that decision?

      Also, if a major is incredibly unpopular with students, why should any school spend millions to sustain it when there are other, under-resourced departments without empty seats that could put the money to better use?

  2. Uber-liberal college elects to keep “peace studies” but ditch math and physics? Not a big surprise. Enjoy your slide to the bottom, Goucher.

  3. Makes a lot of sense to drop Education majors, when they can be had right down the road at Towson. Investing in Equine Sciences makes a lot of sense; it sets Gouncher apart and capitalizes on strengths. Also, NO tuition increase this year. I’m an alumnus and know Goucher to be a great place, with top-notch academics and facilities. Best of luck Goucher! 🗣💙💪🏽

  4. Ahhhh…the headline! Read the entire article. A lot of sense is made. Losing Mathematics as a major, Wow! I’ve always been in awe of people who chose this major and know it to be a solid choice to go forward in a lot of areas. But, I reckon Computer Science with a concentration in Mathematics, is the new way through. And if you can do an Education major, just down the road at Towson, then I see the logic in dropping it and putting resources into the Equine 🐎 prgrms, having great equine facilities and majors sets Goucher apart and capitalizes on strengths. Also NO tuition increase this year. From a grateful alumnus: Good Luck! Goucher, you’ll always have spec place in my 💙🗣💪🏽

  5. Just the beginning.
    30%-40% of colleges will merge or be closed in the next 5-10 years.
    They are an expensive and inefficient way to learn.
    Seen many travel agencies lately? Same reason. Resorts and cruise lines don’t even print brochures anymore.

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