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Universities should decide when to cut degrees

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted last week to eliminate 64 degree programs at public universities. Another 145 programs were voluntarily cut.

During a four-hour meeting, college officials begged the board to spare their programs, as they were examined one by one. Statewide, 545 programs were identified as under-enrolled under stricter standards implemented last year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Associate and bachelor’s programs were in danger of being cut or consolidated if they failed to produce at least 25 graduates every five years.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with cutting unpopular degrees, the decision seems to have the same misguided motivation as other education reforms proposed in Texas, which places too much emphasis on universities producing graduates who are immediately economically productive.

As Florida Gov. Rick Scott likes to get his education reform ideas from Texas, it may not be long before Florida degree programs face elimination. However, if degrees should be cut, the decision should be made by individual universities, which have a better idea of what programs are still fruitful.

According to The Daily Texan, the University of Texas’ student newspaper, UT cut its Greek major, the only one offered at public universities in the state. While the argument can be made that the U.S. doesn’t need a lot of Greek majors, surely they still have a place in society. The study of Greek is one of the oldest in the history of higher education.

Even majors in supposedly core fields are being cut, consolidated or put on probation until they can get their numbers up. Out of 25 undergraduate physics programs, 13 were deemed underperforming and six were cut or consolidated, according to the Chronicle.

Texas Southern University lost majors in physics and math, while English and chemistry were given a two-year probation to improve numbers, according to the Chronicle.

“We’re telling institutions, ‘Either make all of your programs robust and successful, or concentrate on the things you do well,'” Raymund A. Paredes, Texas higher-education commissioner, said during a conference call last week, according to the Chronicle.

“This process of accountability is something we’re going to see more of,” he said. “We want to be able to report to Texas taxpayers how their money is being used.”

Scott has also used such rhetoric in his calls for education reform. However, taxpayers are accounting for less and less of college budgets, as states continue to cut funding and schools increase tuition.

Within the USF System, for example, general revenue from the state accounted for less than 20 percent of the 2010-11 operating budget. More than 12 percent of the budget came from tuition. Student financial aid, the largest funding source, accounted for about 26 percent. While aid may come from government sources, students bring in the money.

Universities should be more accountable to students than the state. If students want to pay money to major in Greek, universities should be allowed to take their money.