Public universities and community colleges across Texas will begin phasing out undergraduate degree programs with low graduate rates effective immediately, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The Board oversees 24 public universities and evaluated their graduation data on all degrees for the past five years, from fall 2006 to summer 2010. If programs did not graduate an average of five students per year, for a minimum of 25 students, the Board notified the institutions of the pending elimination of these degree programs.
Currently 146 different degree programs at universities across the state are being phased out according to the 2011 Annual Report of Low-Producing Programs and Staff Recommendations.
“[The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board] is charged by the Texas legislator to deem it necessary when to open and close degree programs,” said Dominic Chavez, Senior Director of External Relations for the Board. “We want to improve both the cost efficiency and productivity of them.”
Educational institutions had the opportunity to submit a request for consolidation or temporary exemption during the summer of this year. If the institution wishes to appeal the denial of the exemption or consolidation or even the phasing out of the degree programs, they will be able to address the entire sitting Higher Education Board during their next meeting scheduled for October 27.
Currently, 43 programs are appealing the decisions.
“A positive side-effect of these [phase outs] is that it will force institutions to take a good hard look inside and say, are we doing everything we can in helping our students be successful and graduating?” Chavez said.
While Chavez agrees that the degree phase-outs are a small piece of a comprehensive strategy to control costs, he says this strategizing will reinvent higher education in Texas by making it more effective and affordable.
A positive side-effect of these [phase outs] is that it will force institutions to take a good hard look inside and say, are we doing everything we can in helping our students be successful and graduating?
However, there has been a recent backlash about the Board’s decision to phase-out several physics degrees across the state in at least seven universities, according to the Journal of Physical Society.
Michael Marder, a physicist at the University of Texas at Austin, said the phase-outs will mainly affect schools across Texas that are smaller in size.
“How have we gotten into this spot where there is a very large and demonstrable state need for people majoring in [physics] and the [THECB] wants to shut the programs down?” Marder asks. “It is dramatic that the United States is taking for granted to offer students an opportunity in such a critical discipline.”
According to the Board’s Low-Producing Degree Programs Report, total graduates from the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs approximately totaled 70,000 students for the past five years. The total number of graduates for the STEM programs at universities across the state was 519 students, so the low-producing program will be phased out.
“By no means is it even fathomable that [THECB] is undermining science or targeting physics. The institutions chosen for phasing out were just not successful in recruitment of students or retention for graduation,” Chavez said.
“The day we can’t make out own cell phones work anymore, we’ll realize [physics degrees] were important but by then it will be too late,” Marder said.