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Saint Mary’s University announces academic program changes; 11 under-enrolled majors face phaseout

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To better position itself financially for long-term sustainability and success, as higher education continues to experience increasing competition for fewer students, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota is announcing a consolidation of academic areas and a reduction in undergraduate majors.

Following a substantial review of low-enrolled majors by academic administration and in consultation with designated groups of undergraduate faculty, the university has decided to strategically phase out 11 under-enrolled majors over the next few years. Employees and students were notified about the program changes Tuesday.

“The time to re-envision our future is now,” said Father James P. Burns, IVD, Ph.D., Saint Mary’s president. “Higher education is experiencing major disruption, exacerbated by the pandemic and declining number of high school students. In this climate, few schools can continue business as usual.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Americans attending college has dropped by 1 million. Researchers are estimating that the total could rise as high as 3 million over the next 10 years, largely due to lower birth rates across the U.S.

In Minnesota, total undergraduate enrollment has plunged by almost a third to levels last seen in the late 1990s, according to the state Office of Higher Education.

“We want to provide students with programs that are in demand, have a high potential for growth, and that many want to pursue now,” Father Burns said. “And, we are aligning the programs we offer with our mission as we answer the question: how can we best prepare our students for work, for a life of ethical service, to pursue the greater good and the truth in all things while answering their questions about meaning and purpose? The goal is for our graduates to excel in their early careers, become future leaders in their fields, and use their special gifts to impact humanity. Just as our Catholic nursing program, launched in fall 2021, responded to student, industry, and societal needs, we will continue adapting and responding to change.”

The new program portfolio is concentrated in business, technology, and the sciences. And — as employers clearly state that they have a real need for excellent skills in areas such as communication, processing and analytics, ethics, and organizational development — these will continue to be offered at Saint Mary’s through a revised general education common core curriculum designed to support the retained majors. In all of this, Saint Mary’s commitment to Lasallian Catholic values as well as Character and Virtue formation will remain at the forefront and will be infused into all offerings.

Undergraduate programs to be phased out over the next several years include:

1. Actuarial Science

2. Art

3. English

4. History

5. Human Services

6. International Business

7. Music

8. Music Industry

9. Spanish

10. Theatre

11. Theology

Students currently enrolled in these programs will be able to complete their degrees and will be offered the appropriate planning and guidance to do so.

Incoming students in these programs will have the option to begin their program, often along an accelerated path, or they can explore other academic programs (at Saint Mary’s) to fulfill their career and personal goals.

Thirteen full-time faculty members will be affected by the changes beginning in the 2023-24 academic year. This advance planning will provide a transition for students and faculty.

“Having to lay off high quality faculty is a true loss and will be felt across the university,” Father Burns said. “Decisions that impact the lives of our faculty are difficult and are not made lightly. We are grateful to all of our outstanding employees for their service and for the care and concern they have shown our students. While we acknowledge this magnitude of change is never easy, we are committed to ensuring a quality education that leads to meaningful careers, that is responsive to what students and their families have told us, and that are associated with the areas in which we can devote our resources.”

Saint Mary’s University, one of six Lasallian Catholic universities in the United States, enrolls close to 5,000 students between its undergraduate campus in Winona and through its bachelor completion, and graduate and professional programs, located in Minneapolis, Rochester, as well as online.

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