Wearden addresses enrollment comments, Fashion BFA


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Wearden addresses enrollment comments, Fashion BFA

By Campus Editor

A conversation on Sept. 23 between Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden and The Chronicle about clarifications of past coverage—see box below for specifics—evolved into a wide-ranging discussion of Columbia’s enrollment, changes and cuts. What follows is an edited, condensed version of Wearden’s remarks.

THE CHRONICLE: Would you elaborate on your views about enrollment?

STAN WEARDEN: We have to stop a sort of magical thinking where enrollment is just going to get better next year. We have to realize that this is going to take some work—it’s going to take several years of increasing the size of our freshman class; increasing our international enrollment, which is why we will be hiring the vice provost for Global Education; increasing our online enrollment, which is why we hired a vice provost for Digital Learning; and increasing our adult continuing education students. As we increase those populations, including the traditional domestic freshmen, for several years, we will see the enrollment completely turn around.

Why at the Sept.9 Faculty Senate meeting did you say, “Solving enrollment is not a magic wand, [and] next fall we will have fewer students than we did this fall. It’s going to take some time.” 

I was trying to convey an optimistic message [so that] everybody can get on board with the things that we’re doing now. I want to reiterate that the Strategic Plan implementation, the improvement of the curriculum to make it more current, intentional and relevant for the students, the work we’re doing on global education and digital learning, and the work we’re doing on adult continuing education is all intended to turn enrollment around. Our Enrollment Management and Admissions team has [also] developed a whole new recruitment process, beginning this year, that we believe will help.

Would you care to comment on the reported discontinuation of the BFA in fashion design?

What I’ve asked the departments to do this year—and actually last year as well—is to review their curriculum to make sure that it’s intentional: they have good reasons for everything in the curriculum, there are specific learning outcomes attached to the courses, there are program learning outcomes, and they are intentionally moving students toward meeting those learning outcomes. [I’ve also asked to make sure] it’s current, which means it’s just state-of-the-art right now, and it’s relevant to the lives and careers of our students, including a component focused on the employability of our students. That’s really all I’ve directed. The rest of the decisions need to be made at the departmental level. I don’t have the expertise to tell faculty of the Fashion [Studies] Department what its curriculum should look like, and I don’t have the expertise on fashion curriculum to tell the department whether it should have a BFA program. That’s a local, departmental decision. Whatever decision they make, if they defend their decision and make a good case for it, I will of course support that decision. 

Any other thoughts on the Fashion Studies Department? 

There haven’t been any changes to the fashion curriculum. There’s a proposal. There’s a lot of confusion about it, which is why the fashion chair came out with a statement about it, but all of these need to go through a review process, including the proposal to eliminate the BFA. There’s a departmental curriculum committee that will review it and discuss it and, in all likelihood, make modifications to the proposal that’s out there. They can throw the proposal out if they decide to— that’s their choice at a departmental level. Whatever passes at a departmental level then has to be approved by the school curriculum—[School of Fine & Performing Arts)— whatever they approve has to be approved by the Academic Affairs Committee at Faculty Senate, which then gets voted on by the full Faculty Senate [before coming] to me for my final approval. They haven’t even started that process yet. 

Should fashion BFA students be concerned about changes?

We have a BFA in fashion right now until further notice. We may still have a BFA at the end of this process; it all depends on what gets recommended by these bodies. Whatever changes might happen in the fashion curriculum, or in any other curriculum in the college, do not affect current students. They don’t even affect students who are admitted next year. Whatever the curriculum is described as being in the catalogue is the curriculum we will give those students. Even if they do decide to eliminate the BFA, those students are still going to get a BFA if they want it. 

Would you like to comment on recent budget cuts?

Our enrollment was significantly down this year. We have 8,120 students, which is significantly fewer than we had last fall. We are a tuition-funded institution. We don’t get significant grant dollars or other sources of funding here. We have a fiduciary obligation to turn in a balanced budget. In other words, just like a household, we have to know how we are going to pay our bills. When we see we have fewer students, that means fewer tuition dollars, [which] means we have to find ways to cut our budget in order to balance it, so we can pay our bills. That’s why I’m working so hard on trying to find ways to turn enrollment around.

How were the budget cuts determined? 

Enrollment numbers begin to harden in the summer, [so] we get a strong sense of our actual enrollment numbers. We realized we were going to be below our target— our best estimate we base our initial budget on. The best estimate is based on 5­–10 years of enrollment trends and some analysis we do from that. We realized we were going to have to implement some cuts, so I asked the deans, and they asked the chairs, to make cuts in such a way that—as much as possible— it protected the student–learning experience. I realized it wasn’t always going to be possible. Those cuts were made by deans [and] by department chairs based on their sense of where they can most effectively make cuts and not too dramatically affect the student learning experience. 

This is difficult for all of us. No one wants to be in an environment where you have to make cuts. To some extent, it’s good we’re in the position where we have to focus on efficiency because given that all of revenues come from students tuition dollars— which means they’re taking out loans and working second and third jobs to pay for their education—we really do have an obligation to spend their money as efficiently as possible, even if we have a lot of it. 

It’s kind of a positive thing that we’re forced by budgetary situations to think about how to become more efficient. However, the whole team is working day and night to do what we can to turn the enrollment situation around so, we don’t have year after year of facing this difficulty with our budget.

In a Sept. 23 interview with The Chronicle, Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden clarified comments attributed to him in recently published stories that covered his visit to Faculty Senate and the announcement of curricular changes in the Fashion Studies Department. 

In a Sept. 12 story titled “Provost addresses enrollment drop, faculty’s transparency concerns,” Wearden’s statement should have noted the decline in enrollment is likely to continue until gains are made in international student recruitment, continuing adult education and online enrollment. 

Regarding a Sept. 19 story titled “Fashion BFA program canceled via email, interim chair tells students “Don’t freak!,’ he disputed a comment that the decision to discontinue the program came from the higher administration and pointed out the many steps before a final decision is reached.