Kansas, similar to the United States at large, has a shortage of engineers, nuclear physicists, physicians, and math and science teachers. Oddly enough, some state legislators as well as business-minded administrators want to shut down the very programs that train such specialists. The reason: only a small number of students are pursuing those careers. Therefore, save money by canceling programs with small enrollments.
This line of reasoning is simple-minded for several reasons.
Treating a student as a "customer" leaves the curriculum in the hands of the pop culture. During the era of Jacques Cousteau’s, many students wanted to become marine biologists. Today, the CSI television program has brought in enough students wanting to enter forensic science to staff police departments several times over. And there are always a stadium full of students ready to become athletic trainers. At universities, our job has been and continues to be broadening these students’ options and helping them train for a realistic world and the jobs that Kansas needs. A university that is whipsawed by every career fad cannot sustain stable programs and quality faculty.
Cutting all low-enrolled programs is simple-minded because it assumes that there will be a cost savings. In recent years, no Kansas educational institution has turned out enough chemistry or physics teachers to make a five-graduates-a-year threshold. Shut down all of the chemistry and physics teacher programs and you save—nothing. Those chemistry and physics professors are still needed to serve their non-teaching majors as well as nursing, pre-med, biology, and general education programs. University programs across the state may only be turning out a physics or chemistry teacher every other year, but Kansas desperately needs that physics or chemistry teacher production.
Administrators who defend cutting all small programs on a mindless bean-counting formula can say they are running a business. But a good business would fire them—because it is not good business practice. Take that big discount store...you know the one. They stock some shelves with product that has very low turnover...not a "profit maker." But they know that if they discontinue that product due to low sales, that forces the customer to go elsewhere. The equivalent situation for colleges is that a student who enters with one career goal often switches to another. On average, over 60 percent of college students change majors! Kansas needs chemistry and physics teachers, and if a student decides to switch from another field, those programs need to be there to recruit and capture them.
Sadly, CEO or "Chief Executive Officer" has been the moniker used for both university presidents and even administrators of large public schools. The model for the last decade has been to run schools like a business. Like the movie character who proclaimed "greed is good," student enrollment is now becoming the bottom line, and we are rapidly moving toward discount universities.
Public schools and universities are not here to serve student "customers" but to serve the people of the state of Kansas—to serve the "public good." To drive school policy based on career fads does not serve Kansas or the student well. We will end up with far more (unemployed) crime scene investigators and athletic trainers than Kansas will ever need, and no nuclear physicists or chemistry teachers. The blame for such shortages falls squarely on the heads of those who treat public education as a business.
There may be under-enrolled university programs that can be eliminated to save money, but they are not in chemistry or physics or science teaching.
But CEO’s, board members, and legislators who never use the words "public good"—now those are good candidates for elimination.