Correction: This editorial originally incorrectly attributed the conclusion that the University of Tulsa has too many degree programs. The editorial has be corrected.
The University of Tulsa has taken a hard look at the future and made some difficult choices.
• Tough times lie ahead for colleges and universities. Domestic demographic realities mean that the number of college-going students nationwide will drop 20% over the next decade. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School predicts half of the nation’s 4,000 or so colleges and universities will close or merge in the coming decade.
• Simultaneously, the United States has become a more difficult and less welcoming place for international students, who have been a financial cushion for higher education. TU’s international student numbers have gone from 20% of enrollment a few years ago to 12% this year and are likely to be less than 10% in the fall.
• Tuition isn’t supporting the school financially. Every year, TU spends about $10,000 more per student than it nets from tuition.
• TU has too many degree programs. TU administrators say the university has more degree programs than can be justified for an enrollment of 4,400. The Higher Learning Commission noted that programs seemed to be discontinued mainly because of faculty attrition rather than strategic decisions.
The commission noted that programs seemed to be discontinued mainly because of faculty attrition rather than strategic decisions.
To deal with those challenges, TU President Gerard Clancy and Provost Janet Levit rolled out a reorganization plan last week that includes reducing degree programs, restructuring the school’s administrative framework and trimming administrative costs.
It’s a big change. Traditional academic departments will move into interdisciplinary divisions, and a new “professional super college” will emerge around the business, health and law colleges.
Eighty-four degree programs — including musical theater, theater and performance, and graduate programs in chemistry, geosciences and anthropology — will be phased out. Affected students, including those who enroll this fall, will still be able to complete their degrees. Other degrees — science, technology, engineering, math and cybersecurity — will be targeted for expansion.
Change causes friction. We’ve already heard from those who are upset to see the programs they cherished at the school going away. Given unlimited resources, the school might have allowed a certain amount of no-conflict inertia to lead the way.
But the school doesn’t have unlimited resources. An endowment of close to $1 billion and a new fundraising emphasis on student success initiatives and scholarships will help the school deal with the approaching storm, but they aren’t an impenetrable sea wall.
The TU plan is challenging, necessary and designed to make sure the school is part of the half that makes it to 2030.