URI repositions majors, course offerings in response to market trends, student interests

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KINGSTON, R.I. — July 22, 2009 — During the past year, students, faculty, deans and administrators have been reviewing the academic enterprise at the University of Rhode Island, with the primary goal of continuing to respond to market trends and student interests. Recently, the University presented a plan to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education that calls for adding new courses and majors, consolidating majors/programs and suspending several degree programs.

“Throughout this review process, we wanted to enhance and ensure the quality of our programs and reposition our University for the future,” said Donald H. DeHayes, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. As part of what the provost described as a “thoughtful, collaborative process of strategic institutional review and change,” the University identified 59 low enrollment programs, recommended the elimination of four, consolidated 27 programs, and added several new undergraduate and graduate degrees.

“Using our new academic vision and plan as a framework, the changes we are making are interconnected and designed to reinvigorate our programs and allow us to reinvest in areas of greater interest and need,” said Provost DeHayes. “These challenging times provide an opportunity for us to redefine our path in ways that are innovative, creative and current,” he added.

Students enrolled in the suspended programs will be able to complete their degrees, and most courses in the suspended majors will still be offered as part of the wider curriculum in the University’s eight degree-granting colleges. In total, undergraduate majors will be reduced from 87 to 73; master’s degree programs from 43 to 40; and doctoral from 24 to 16.

Most of these reductions will be achieved through program consolidation and the development of concentration areas that still allow students to specialize. These consolidations, however, allow the University to provide a meaningful interdisciplinary foundation and to create a larger cohort of students in the majors, which is especially critical for the vitality of our graduate programs.

For example, the bachelor of arts in comparative literature will be consolidated with the bachelor of arts in English, creating a program track in comparative literature; the current separate bachelor’s of music degrees, one in music composition and the other in music performance, will be merged with the bachelor of music degree in music education to form a single bachelor of music with multiple concentrations; and a new bachelor of science in plant and horticultural science will be created from the consolidation of existing undergraduate programs in environmental plant biology and environmental horticulture and turf management.

Also, in an effort to create new synergies between existing departments, the College of Engineering is merging the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics with the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering to form a new Department of Mechanical, Industrial, and Systems Engineering.

Majors slated for suspension are the bachelor of science in chemistry and chemical oceanography, the bachelor of arts in Latin American studies and the bachelor of arts in physics, all in the College of Arts and Sciences.

According to Provost DeHayes, the bachelor of arts in physics has graduated only one student in the past three years. Virtually all of URI’s physics majors are enrolled in the bachelor of science program, which will continue to be offered. Physics courses will continue to be offered as foundational components of numerous science majors.

Although the combined bachelor of science in chemical and ocean engineering in the College of Engineering will be suspended, the separate majors in chemical engineering and ocean engineering will still be offered.

The College of the Environment and Life Sciences has developed a forward-looking plan, widely endorsed by the faculty, to combine related majors in a way that will enhance student learning, provide preparation for a changing work force, and at the same time enhance the efficiency of program delivery.

“The process of consolidation has been a very positive step for all of our programs,” DeHayes said. “Over time, many of our programs were separated into smaller, separate units, but now with an ever-greater need for interdisciplinary studies, we believe we have taken some very strong steps toward strengthening the academic experience.”

“The proposed consolidations are viewed favorably by many faculty,” said Professor Stephen Swallow, chair of the URI Faculty Senate. “Faculty members have been dedicated to an extensive effort, investing several hundred hours of time to produce the best, forward-looking programs for students while realizing needed efficiencies.”

Among the new programs being offered are three undergraduate oceanography courses — ocean exploration, life in the sea and an honors course on climate change through history – all taught by faculty at the Graduate School of Oceanography. A new doctorate in advanced nursing practice will be offered by the College of Nursing. In the College of Pharmacy, a new four-year bachelor of science in pharmaceutical sciences will prepare students for jobs in research, pharmaceutical sales and management.

No changes were made in the College of Business or the College of Human Science and Services, both of which had already implemented curricular reorganizations.

Many of the remaining low enrollment programs, like the bachelor of science in industrial engineering, will submit strategies for increasing student interest by December 2009, or be considered for elimination at that time. Even if a major is suspended, courses in the discipline may still continue to be offered.