RIC cuts 7 majors, considers eliminating 17 more due to low enrollment

Updated at 4:04 p.m.

RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE has eliminated seven majors and is considering getting rid of 17 more due to low enrollment, according to Interim President Jack Warner. /COURTESY RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE

PROVIDENCE – Amid losses in students and operating revenue, Rhode Island College is axing some of its least popular degrees.

The college has already cut five undergraduate and two graduate majors, with another 17 (seven undergraduate and 10 graduate) on the chopping block due to low enrollment, Jack Warner, Rhode Island College’s interim president, told Providence Business News. Additionally, 21 concentrations or certificate programs – which are focused tracks within a major – were eliminated, and 28 concentrations are being monitored for possible removal. 

The majors and concentrations were put on the chopping block at the beginning of the academic year because there were five or fewer students graduating from them for each of the past three years, according to Warner. 

The seven eliminated majors represent 6% of RIC’s 120 combined undergraduate and graduate degrees. If all 17 majors considered at risk are also removed– a decision Warner said he will make if enrollment does not rebound – that would reduce the college’s 90 undergraduate degrees by 13% and its 30 graduate majors by 40%.

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Warner declined to share the full list of which majors and concentrations that have or may be eliminated, saying he has not yet shared that information with the rest of the college. Warner instead offered examples of programs cut, including bachelor’s of science degrees in career and technical education, a bachelor’s of science in wellness and movement, and a bachelor’s of arts in early childhood education, although there is still a bachelor’s of science in early childhood education. The master’s of arts in history and master’s of arts in teaching for music education are examples of programs being monitored for possible removal, according to Warner.

The move comes as Warner, who began a one-year contract as interim president of RIC in July, looks to help the struggling public institution overcome financial losses and enrollment declines. 

Warner said that keeping degrees and concentrations with few students enrolled was hurting faculty’s productivity. Rather than teaching an upper-level class to one or two students, teachers should focus their time and efforts on classes and programs with higher participation, he said.

There are no layoffs planned in conjunction with the program cuts, according to Warner. Students already enrolled in one of the eliminated majors or concentrations will still be able to graduate with that degree, but the college won’t accept new students. 

Erik Christiansen, a history professor and president of the faculty union, said he supported the decision to get rid of concentrations, but cautioned against cutting majors especially based on recent enrollment.

The pandemic dealt a crippling blow to college enrollment across the board, including at RIC, which saw undergraduate students drop by nearly 19%, or 1,200 students, from 2019 to 2021, according to data from the college. Making permanent decisions about the future of degree programs based on graduations during that time did not seem like a good decision, according to Christiansen.

However, Shannon Gilkey, the R.I. postsecondary commissioner, supported Warner’s decision. Speaking more broadly about the need to “reimagine” RIC, Gilkey stressed the need to focus on the college’s strengths and in-demand jobs, such as education, nursing and technology.

“We can’t be everything to everyone,” Gilkey said. 

Warner planned to decide whether to keep the majors and concentrations that were being  by the start of the next academic year, or potentially sooner depending on the need to further reduce costs. 

(Update: Story has been updated to correct examples of two master’s programs being reviewed for possible elimination in 5th paragraph.)

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com

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