One program at the University of Montana awarded no graduate degrees at all in 2014.

Graduate enrollment in the same program, modern and classical languages and literature, dropped 75 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to a newly released report from UM.

But in media arts?

Majors jumped 75 percent over the same time period.

And in the College of Forestry and Conservation?

Wildlife biology undergraduate majors increased 41 percent, and climate change studies is growing.

This month, the Faculty Senate reviewed a report that identified the most challenged programs on campus as well as the ones most poised for growth. The Academic Alignment and Innovation Program's final report suggested strategies to strengthen programs at both ends of the spectrum – and potential new programs.

UM Provost Perry Brown said this week the review conducted by a UM task force is the first of its kind and a priority for President Royce Engstrom. He said the outcomes will help UM focus its discussions on the best way to provide a solid liberal arts education.

"We're focused on excellence in all of the educational opportunities we provide," Brown said. "And so we want to ensure that we have the most relevant and the highest quality education that we can possibly provide people."

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According to the report, online with this story, challenged programs were the following:

  • Electronics technology of Missoula College. Majors decreased 37 percent from 2010 to 2014 and associate degrees awarded also decreased. Tactics to strengthen the program include creating new concentrations, such as biomedical electronics and robotics technology, and some modifications are already underway.
  • Energy technology of Missoula College. Majors decreased 49 percent over the four years. One strategy is to "start a campaign to enroll non-traditional career-bound women online."
  • Modern and classical languages and literature, graduate program, dropped 75 percent in four years. Possible fixes include increasing the number of teaching assistants and introducing a graduate certificate in film studies. "The MCLL graduate program is the only MA language program in the MUS (Montana University System) and is the only program for language teachers across the state."
  • Philosophy, graduate program. The number of graduate students dropped 20 percent from 2010 to 2014, and it awarded just two graduate degrees in 2014. The program already has introduced a focus on environmental philosophy as one solution.
  • Sociology, graduate program. The number of graduate students dropped 48 percent in the same period. "This led AAIP to identify the graduate program in Sociology as enrollment challenged," the report said. "The Department of Sociology disagrees with AAIP's assessment." Rather, it considers current enrollment typical, and previous enrollment an "anomalous peak."
  • Parks, tourism and recreation management, graduate program. The number of graduate students took a nosedive of 71 percent from 2010 to 2014. The report attributes the small program to "two faculty vacancies that have remained open." The report said it was filling one position.

The report also named programs that are ready for growth:

  • Computer science, undergraduate. It grew 41 percent from 2010 to 2014. Ideas for continued growth include expanding curricula in cyber security, robotics and gaming.
  • Media arts, undergraduate. It grew 75 percent over four years. Growth will require staffing. "The lack of permanent staff support has become more difficult as resident student numbers have increased dramatically over the years, but will become untenable as the fully online student population grows."
  • Wildlife biology, undergraduate. It grew 41 percent. One step necessary for more growth is "additional faculty lines ... to relieve over-enrollment in core classes, maintain the quality of field-based courses ... and address current inequalities in faculty teaching loads."
  • Health and human performance, undergraduate. It grew 18 percent, and it needs more faculty, more staff and new facilities.
  • Climate change studies. The number of minors awarded grew, and the program needs a full-time director and part-time assistant.
  • Culinary arts/food service management of Missoula College. It grew 9 percent, and it needs expanded facilities, which it will have in the new college.
  • Surgical technology, including pre-majors, grew 75 percent in four years at Missoula College. It needs a different tuition model for fully online students, among other changes.
  • Communicative sciences and disorders, graduate program. It grew 43 percent, and it's looking to create a doctoral program for speech language pathology, among other strategies.
  • Health and human performance, graduate program. It grew 60 percent and needs additional faculty and better facilities.
  • Public and community health sciences, graduate program. It grew 13 percent in four years. One strategy is to market to and admit international students to emphasize global health "in partnership sites such as Ethiopia, Zambia and Malawi."

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The report will certainly spark a discussion about whether some challenged programs are obsolete, Provost Brown said.

"You have to look and see. What is causing the challenge? What is the right response to dealing with that challenge?" he said.

Sometimes, a program just needs to be reshaped, he said. However, Brown also said just because a program, such as languages, isn't awarding graduate degrees doesn't mean it doesn't fulfill an important role on campus, and it doesn't mean the entire department is challenged, either.

Modern and classical languages and literature provide a service in language and cultural expertise to the entire campus, he said. Plus, he said, some languages may have robust enrollment, and others may not.

"But still, it alerts to the fact that a conversation needs to go on with regard to that set of programs," Brown said.

Over the next month, the Faculty Senate will review the report and make recommendations about how to move forward, he said.

Bill Borrie, president of the Faculty Senate, said one common refrain from faculty was that employers and educators already recognize UM provides a strong liberal arts and sciences education. Graduates are flexible and critical thinkers able to take on different points of view and communicate them.

"So I heard my colleagues saying, 'That's our heritage. That's our strength. That's one of the things we do well here,' " Borrie said.

One take-home message from the report is that the data don't set priorities, he said. Rather, the data collection was limited, and in some cases, it pointed to the need for more information and better metrics.

Regardless, setting priorities won't be easy, he said. Some of the fixes don't take money, but many do, and UM doesn't have new resources to tap.

"It's laid out a bit of a challenge for our campus in terms of where we're going to invest resources going forward and what's the wisest investment of those resources," Borrie said.

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