Letter: UW-Stevens Point Should Be Applauded for Turning to the Future, Respecting Taxpayer Dollars
Faced with a $4.5 million structural deficit, the school is nixing less popular programs while adding others
By Ola Lisowski
The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point recently announced a “realignment” of the school’s offered programs, eliminating 13 majors while adding eight others and expanding certain academic programs. On the docket to be cut are traditional programs such as History, Political Science, and English, among others.
Professors and students alike responded harshly, culminating in a campus sit-in called “Save Our Majors.” To put it lightly, the reaction is overblown. Rather than being denigrated for shifting its focus, UWSP should be applauded for making a tough decision.
Facing declining enrollment and a growing deficit, UWSP made a choice: stay in the past, or turn towards the future. Students can chant “save our majors” all they want, but ultimately, fewer and fewer are enrolling in those programs. Just 6 percent of students, or fewer than 500 people, count one of the affected programs as their sole major. Of the incoming students already set to start at UWSP in the fall of 2018, approximately 115 students, or 3.6 percent, are expecting to major in one of the programs in question.
Many of the majors being cut won’t be eliminated entirely. Political Science will end as a major, but will continue as a minor and will offer a brand new program in Public and Global Affairs. Geography and Geoscience will no longer be majors, but students will be able to major in Geographic Information Systems, the very technology taking the study of the earth into the 21st century. Majors for a teaching emphasis in English and History will continue. The Art major will turn into a Graphic Design major. The Sociology major will become a Social Work major.
The university is taking a look at where and how students find employment upon graduation, and expanding those areas. Good for them.
Not only is UWSP cutting low-demand programs, it is adding majors such as Aquaculture and Aquaponics, and Environmental Engineering. The school is expanding its programs in Chemical Engineering, Computer Information Systems, Fire Science, and others.
UWSP will be the very first UW campus to offer a major program in Aquaculture and Aquaponics. It will become one of the first UW campuses with an on-campus masters program in Natural Resources. Many of the other natural resources-focused programs being added are simply not available anywhere else in the state. This will make Stevens Point stand up and stand out.
Public universities cannot – and should not – be all things to all people. Such an approach is simply unsustainable. The University of Wisconsin System boasts 11 four-year universities, almost all of which offer every single one of the nixed majors in some form.
If you’re a high schooler in central Wisconsin looking to stay close to home and major in French, there are five other four-year UW campuses within two hours that offer the French major. And others still, including UW-Stout, offer the minor. The same is true for Art, English, and most of the other majors in question.
Ultimately, UW schools must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. Stevens Point looked at the $61.1 million it got from the state and from tuition dollars this year, and decided it can do better.
This week, on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) declared that Wisconsin’s future is in the liberal arts. No, Mr. Senator. We are in the midst of a STEM revolution and new era of tech. The future is in robotics, in automation, in engineering.
Those with vested interests in UWSP’s liberal arts programs will be quick to call the move a canary in a coal mine. A number of think pieces have already been written on the issue, as if to sound the alarm for humanities around the country. Watch out! your program could be next!
You know what the real four-alarm fire is? The unemployment rate among liberal arts graduates, and the student debt with which they’re saddled after discovering that philosophy degree wasn’t an automatic ticket to a stable office job. Young people know this. That’s why they’re turning away from college altogether.
Some have argued that this change signifies the beginning of the end of the Wisconsin Idea. I adamantly disagree. The Wisconsin Idea calls for the beneficent influence of the University reaching every family of the state. With brand new majors programs reaching towards the careers of the future, UW-Stevens Point is doing exactly that.
Ola Lisowski is an education policy analyst at the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, a free market think tank based in Madison.