UNC Asheville to Cut Underenrolled Programs - TribPapers

UNC Asheville to Cut Underenrolled Programs

UNC Asheville's Chancellor Kimberly van Noort's decision to cut programs was not political. Rather, it was a sound business decision needed to balance a budget in need of restructuring. Not only is student interest in Western Classicism waning, endowment campaigns and annual donations are more profitable when alumni are gainfully employed.

Asheville – Citing a $6 million deficit, UNC Asheville Chancellor Kimberly van Noort has proposed the elimination of the following degree programs and academic departments: Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Drama, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. The Languages and Literatures program would be cut back by eliminating the French and German language concentrations. Programs will be phased out, with students currently enrolled being allowed to graduate as planned.

On first blush, it may appear that the chancellor has something against classical education. Philosophy and religion used to be the bedrock of education, to cultivate character and a moral imperative to cooperate for the greater good and look after the less fortunate in this life and in the life to come. Volumes have been written, however, explaining why efforts to stop the secularization of education in America are almost 200 years too late.

Religious Studies, for example, doesn’t baptize students in fire and send them out to preach the Good News of John 3:16. Instead, it asks what socio-politico-economic milieux and events might induce somebody to evangelize a hypothetical intended audience. One of the learning objectives of the Religious Studies program at UNC Asheville is to be able to distinguish academic treatment of religion from confessional faith. The department’s webpage states, “Students read, analyze, and discuss significant texts by classical theorists such as Sigmund Freud, Mircea Eliade, and Karl Marx, and study topics like sacred space, myth and text, ritual, and morality.” Course offerings include Jewish Women and Religion, Religion and Dance in South Asia, and Religion and Gender.

Van Noort is not uncultured with no regard for arts and letters, either. She received her B.A. and M.A. in, of all disciplines, French from the University of Nebraska, and her doctorate in French from Boston University. From there, she went on to serve at the University of Texas at Arlington as, among other distinctions, a tenured professor in the Department of Modern Languages and associate dean of liberal arts. 

The most obvious conclusion is that van Noort is doing exactly what she said, cutting “consistently underenrolled” programs. Of the 2,900 undergraduates attending the university, only 72 are pursuing degrees in the programs to be cut. On average, only 25 students a year graduate from the targeted programs combined.

This occurs as college enrollment is declining nationwide. At UNC Asheville, it has fallen 25% over the last five years, translating to a $5.5 million drop in tuition revenue. This was compounded by a $5.6 million decrease in state funding, enrollment weighing heavily in the disbursement calculations. Nationwide, university enrollment is dropping, largely due to a decline in the number of college-age students and the devaluation of college degrees in the court of public opinion. A reason unique to UNC Asheville, van Noort claimed, was the school’s failure to keep its programs in step with student demand.

New to the university last November, van Noort is taking the bull she inherited by the horns. Before cutting academic programs or terminating valued employees, the school renegotiated contracts with vendors and reduced reimbursable travel. Then, they cut 12 administrative positions, managed vacancies, offered early retirement incentives for tenured faculty, and began cutting roles for adjunct employees. UNC Asheville promises to help affected faculty members find new employment.

The implementation of additional budget-balancing measures is contingent on student enrollment on the first day of classes. Thanks to recruitment efforts that were also part of van Noort’s strategy to restructure the budget, the school received over 7,600 applications for the fall semester, representing a 37 percent increase over last year. Unfortunately, any increase in revenues will not be available in time to balance the FY2024–2025 budget. Before becoming effective, the budget cuts must be approved by the UNC System Board of Governors at their July meeting.