DULUTH — Since 2018, undergraduate enrollment at the University of Minnesota Duluth has dropped by about 300 students annually, a number that has grown because of the pandemic, but part of a long-term trend at the regional campus.
It's an unsustainable pace, interim Chancellor David McMillan told faculty and staff during one of two Wednesday town hall-style meetings, as he asked them to help administrators address an enduring problem: how to streamline low-demand majors and courses to remain viable.
"It is critical that we get our arms around this now," because it means "under-utilized faculty," he said. "Doing nothing in a marketplace that is grossly oversupplied [with college choices] and a high price point is a recipe for big trouble."
It's a problem higher education institutions are facing across the state and country as people forgo college and birth rates decline.
The university considers low-enrollment classes as those with fewer than 15 students or, in the case of deliberately small classes, less than half full. Nearly 30% of its courses meet that guideline. Just 10 of its nearly 80 majors serve about half of the university's undergraduate students. Forty of those majors serve 13% of its students.
"Smaller programs, small [numbers] of students in the classroom; that's a big contribution to our budget challenges," said Amy Hietapelto, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs.
UMD overcame a $15 million deficit this year with half the funds coming from one-time money left over from departments across campus and half from the U system. Next year, it faces a similar shortfall, but half will again be covered by the U system. That deficit total doesn't account for enrollment loss, spokeswoman Lynne Williams said.
McMillan and Hietapelto said they didn't know how an examination of courses, programs and major offerings would end, but a more interdisciplinary focus could result, with eliminations of some majors by rolling some courses under other majors. Some departments will be asked to grow enrollment or reposition, rename or shift focus of programs, or simply adjust schedules. It could result in more space for students on waiting lists for high-demand courses.
Faculty members can propose ending a program if demand is dropping or if they think another program could provide a good substitute for it, Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson told U regents in a public meeting Thursday.
"We are extremely careful to ensure that we teach out any student who is currently enrolled in the program. We don't want to leave anybody in the lurch," Croson said.
That means pausing or stopping admissions, allowing currently enrolled students to finish their program or moving them to a new one before discontinuing it.
Faculty union president John Schwetman said cuts stemming from enrollment decline are understandable, but they're also coming from "years of funding decisions at the system level" that left UMD underfunded.
"Those programs that might be identified as [having] low enrollment represent an awful lot of work, energy and love from faculty who developed and maintained them over the years," Schwetman said.
Undergraduate enrollment sits at 7,500, about 23% less than the 2011-12 peak. Counting graduate programs, which will also see analysis, UMD has 9,500 students and is attempting to grow to 10,000, a number that would offer stability, McMillan said in a later interview.
McMillan said he'll continue to push for more aid from the U. While the per-student amount has increased over time, UMD leaders have long said it isn't enough.
The university expects to post program enrollment information online Friday.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this story.