University of Maine System officials have identified 33 academic programs that are underenrolled and need to either be revitalized or face possible elimination or consolidation as part of an ongoing effort to cut costs and be more efficient.

“We want to make sure there’s a vitality for the students in the program, that there is a critical mass of students and faculty to interact with and a critical mass of coursework so students don’t have to wait multiple terms to enroll,” said Robert Neely, the vice chancellor of academic review who is leading the multi-year, systemwide review of academic offerings.

At the University of Southern Maine, there are only two programs under review – the bachelor’s program in Women and Gender Studies and the master’s program called Master of Laws, which is a 24-unit program primarily tailored for international students who worked in the legal system of their home countries.

“I am not anticipating program closures at USM as a result of this review,” Provost Jeannine Uzzi said Friday, noting that while there are not many Women and Gender Studies graduates, the program generates “a lot of tuition revenue” because students in other programs take the courses.

“This is an opportunity for us to say: This has risen to the top of the to-do list and let’s get a recruitment plan together,” Uzzi said.

Neely, working with chief academic officers on each of the seven campuses, initially identified 130 programs – 72 undergraduate and 58 graduate – as not producing enough graduates, defined as five graduates a year at the undergraduate level, three a year at the master’s level and two a year at the doctoral level.

That list was winnowed down as campus officials made the case for individual programs – some were new offerings just getting started, for example; others were distinct programs, like the multiple master’s in music degrees offered by USM.

The last time the trustees eliminated academic programs was during a financial crisis in 2014, and the sudden cuts prompted a vicious backlash by students and faculty, including protest marches and taking over the seats of a board of trustees meeting.

Neely said this process is intentionally collaborative and slow. “I am not a fan of episodic reactions like (USM in 2014), where you get to a point and it’s a crisis and you have to react quickly,” he said. “That happens when you haven’t been doing this kind of due diligence year in and year out.”

Neely, noting that some faculty members have objected to the idea of the review process in general, said he understood it’s a difficult process.

“It’s hard even in this situation, but it’s more manageable. This is not just lip service. You are taking a studious approach,” he said.

Under this review, he said, campus faculty, deans and others affected are part of the process. They may support elimination or suspension, which supports students already in the program but closes the program to new students.

On Monday, Neely will brief the trustees on the review process.

By May, Neely or campus officials will present specific action plans for each of the remaining programs for review to the trustees. Possible outcomes could include renaming or consolidating programs to make them more robust or attract new students; suspending a program for three years with an eye to possible elimination; or collaborating with other campuses to jointly offer certain programs with a mix of in-person and online coursework.

Other programs need changes to be more successful. Campus officials at the University of Maine reported to Neely that the master’s in computer science program, for example, is on the list because it takes too long to get the degree despite a strong workforce value. A new director started last fall and the faculty is working to improve time to degree, which can be stymied if courses aren’t available in a certain order.

Neely pointed out that Fort Kent campus officials wanted to take the bachelor’s in French program off the review list, but he kept it on to consider other options. It may, for example, become part of a joint French program with other campuses. Or, given the campus’s location in a French-speaking region of the state and its emphasis on nursing programs, it might be re-envisioned as a French medical terminology course.

“There’s a way to bolster enrollment by having some practical courses,” he said.

Some programs may just need more targeted recruitment or marketing, Uzzi said.

The master’s programs in French and Spanish at UMaine are also under review. UMaine’s bachelor programs in French, Spanish and Romance Languages were on the initial review list, but were removed after campus officials noted their importance to Maine culturally and that other campuses didn’t offer the same programs.

Cuts to foreign language programs have accelerated significantly nationwide since the 2007 recession.

Just last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that colleges in the United States closed more than 650 foreign language programs between 2013 and 2016. Citing an upcoming report from the Modern Language Association, the Chronicle said the steep decline in offerings was a result of colleges making cuts in delayed response to the recession. By comparison, only one language program was cut between 2009 and 2013.

Demand is also a factor: The Modern Language Association said its surveys found that language enrollment in higher ed in Maine decreased 14 percent in less than a decade, from 4,660 students in 2009 to 3,994 in 2016. Nationwide, enrollment dropped by 15 percent over the same period.

USM cut its French program as part of the financial crisis in 2014, and now offers a wider selection of language courses, including Arabic, Somali and Wabanaki languages, but no specific degree.

Neely said the French programs at various campuses may, for example, be combined to offer a collaborative program across the system.

“We’re exploring the possibility,” he said. “Over time, we wouldn’t necessarily invest any more in French but we would use our existing expertise, and add online or visiting capacity.”

Once the current process is complete in May, Neely said, the campuses will start it again for ongoing academic reviews every year.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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Correction: This story was updated at 12 p.m. Monday Jan. 28, 2019, to correct the number of programs under review.