WINONA, Minn. — When Winona-based St. Mary's announced it was cutting 11 majors on Wednesday — starting in the 2023-24 academic year — the first question for university president Father James P. Burns was, "Why?"
"With the projected enrollment declines that are existent throughout the Midwest, and particularly Minnesota, this was the time we needed to look at that to sustain a strong and stable financial future," Burns says.
The declines are real. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education found that total undergraduate enrollment in our state has declined by nearly one-third since the late 90s.
And since COVID-19 hit nationwide, 1 million fewer students are enrolled than were before.
Among the hardest hit are smaller colleges and universities.
One of the hardest hit first...are smaller colleges and universities.
"The big picture is we want to ensure the stability and the successful financial future of St. Mary's University," Burns says. "We realized we needed to 'right size' our university for that reason."
"Right sizing" for them means getting rid of the undergrad majors of English, history, music, theatre, art and theology — to name a few.
But, why those?
"In particular, what we looked at is the majors that we are phasing out are those that really were low enrolled and also didn't hold great promise in terms of what many families and students want, which is marketable skills and jobs after college," said Burns.
Father Burns quantified what low enrollment means. Those majors, he said, had less than 20 students in them.
So dissolving those and focusing on majors Saint Mary's believes will get students and families a return on their tuition investment in the form of jobs right out of college will be the focus.
Majors that fall into categories such as natural sciences, biology, chemistry, business and technology are among those the university is looking to make better.
The university says it will still teach liberal arts classes, like history and English, in order to give students a more rounded education — despite gutting their respective majors.
Father Burns says the end game is to halt the decline of student enrollment, when competition is steep for all schools to do so, with less students to choose from.
"We are all going after that same piece of pie, so it were, and our idea is if we right size to a number that really we can manage... [it] will be much better for everyone all around."
Current students at Saint Mary's that are enrolled in a major that is going to be phased out will still be able to finish that major. That goes for any student who is headed there this coming fall who chose those majors.
It's the class of 2023 coming in that won't be able to choose those to-be-eliminated areas of focus.
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