Starting 2024 with all kinds of academic cuts

Bryan Alexander 2024-03-01

In this new year of 2024, which colleges and universities are cutting academic programs and jobs?

For a month I’ve been working on this post, accumulating information about different examples, but the instances have been coming in faster than I’ve been able to note them down. And my own schedule ramped up to a fever pitch again.  Finally I’m drawing a line under stories so far, just to get this out there.  So this is not an exhaustive list.

I’ll break this down into several categories, then offer some reflections about what the examples tranche might mean for higher education’s future.

1 Closing colleges and universities

We should start by discussing the maximum cut: closing institutions.   Ohio’s Eastern Gateway Community College, for example, is suspending registration for summer and fall classes. Jamestown Business College, a New York for profit, is closing.  The University of Wisconsin at Green Bay will end in-person instruction at its Marinette campus.  Texas A&M suddenly announced it would close its Qatar Education City branch campus.

In the pipeline of potential closures: a Mississippi legislator posted a bill to shut down three of that state’s public universities.

2 Campuses cutting programs and jobs

axNow we move on to institutions which are shutting down academic programs and/or getting rid of faculty and/or staff.  (Removing tenure-track faculty is what I’ve referred to as the queen sacrifice.  It’s a chess move, where a player gives up their most powerful piece, the queen.  In the analogy tenure-track faculty are queens, given tenure’s protections and the guarantees around long-term employment, plus campus governance.  I will also note endangered personnel who aren’t tenure-track.)

Marietta College (Ohio) is cutting 22 faculty and 14 administrators.  The problem is financial.  First, “net tuition and fee revenue has declined as Marietta has invested more in financial aid and employee compensation.”  Enrollment is a factor twice over, both the total numbers and how much each student brings in:

Enrollment at the college has hovered around roughly 1,200 students for the past several years, but it dropped roughly 26% from 2012 to 2022.

Marietta brought in $15.2 million in revenue from net tuition and fees in fiscal 2022, down from $22.7 million in fiscal 2017, according to publicly available financial records. Financial aid awards grew over that time.

The University of New Hampshire is cutting 75 staff members and closing its art museum.  The given reason was enrollment declines. I would also add the state chronically underfunds public higher education, as Robin DeRosa has documented over the years.

Concordia University is cutting staff and faculty at two campuses in Wisconsin and Michigan.  One of the campuses suffered declining enrollment, but both experienced seriously increasing costs, apparently.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s regents are considering cutting several academic programs and some associated faculty members to address a budget deficit. On the block are BAs in geography, recreation management, and theater.

Albion College will lay off several people

The University of Arizona announced a series of cuts, starting with 13 open and 4 occupied staff positions (as yet unidentified).  UoA also suspended a group of non-academic programs:

The university will suspend competitive grant programs in the Provost Investment fund, which allowed faculty and staff to seek funding from the office for special projects. The university will save $1.5 million per year from this cut. Additionally, UA leaders have suspended the Strategic Priorities Faculty Initiative to save $475,000 per year, delayed the initiation of the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program’s next cohort to save $400,000 over the next year, and has saved $300,000 per year by eliminating the eSports program. The UA has also eliminated the fiscal year 2025 Salary Increase Program and “will reevaluate the program in future years.” In December, UA President Robert C. Robbins told [the Arizona Board of Regents] that the university would “defer” several capital projects through the end of June.

Baldwin Wallace University will cut two dozen staff and non-tenured faculty members.

3 Cutting programs but not laying off people yet

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro will cut twenty academic programs. On the list:

BA, Anthropology BA, Secondary Education in Geography BS and BA, Physics BS, Physical Education, Teacher Education (K-12) BA, Religious Studies (will now be a concentration within the Liberal and Professional Studies Program) Chinese minor Russian minor Korean language courses Graduate Programs Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Nursing Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Advanced Practice Foundations (Nursing) MA, Applied Geography MFA, Drama Concentration in Directing (Concentrations in Musical Direction for Musical Theatre, Theatre for Youth, and Design will continue) MFA, Interior Architecture MA, Languages, Literatures, and Cultures MAT, Languages, Literatures, and Cultures in Teaching MA, Mathematics (all concentrations) MEd, Special Education Dual Masters in Nursing Science and Business Administration (The stand-alone MBA and standalone MSN are not affected) PhD, Communication Sciences and Disorders PhD, Computational Mathematics

The University of Toledo announced it would shut down a series of majors in order to save funds:

The bachelor degree programs targeted for elimination include French, German, media communication, urban studies, exercise science, pharmacy administration, pharmacology, and toxicology. The master degree programs to be suspended include French, Spanish, German, art education, foundations in education, exercise science, and industrial engineering. Masters in public health epidemiology, public health policy and law, and health promotion and education also will be suspended. Doctoral degrees in foundations of education psychology, and foundations of education are on the suspension list as well.

They didn’t announce any personnel cuts.

Penn State University is considering almost $100 million in cuts.

Wright State University is closing (“deactivating”) a series of low-enrolling associates, bachelors, and masters degree granting programs.  These fall across the curriculum, from the humanities to natural and social sciences, plus education.  No sign of cutting the faculty and staff working on those programs yet.

4 Budget crises, no program or people cuts announced yet

Delta State University (Ohio) is cutting back expenses by closing open searches, reducing administrative and salaries, and coaxing people into early retirement.

A massive University of Connecticut deficit may lead to cuts. (source)

Lake Erie College struggles to pay one major debt. 

The University of Montana is apparently considering cuts, but I can find information outside of paywalled articles.

5 Institutions merging

Cleveland State University is talking with nearby Notre Dame College about a merger.  The former is much larger than the latter, who is suffering from declining enrollment and ballooning costs.

The University of the Redlands is working on absorbing Woodbury University.   

The Vermont College of Fine Arts isn’t merging with anyone yet, but is now up for sale

6 …and so what?

Historically when I share such accounts the responses fall into a few camps.  Outside of academia, most people shrug or sigh, applying the experience of the business world to academic institutions.  Within academia, most people get sad or angry at the situations described. Some express sympathy with people losing jobs and seeing their careers hit.  Others will take a different tack, arguing that these stories do not constitute a broader pattern, as they depend on distinct, local circumstances.

Which leads me to address the so what? question.  Why bother tracking such data and assembling the evidence?

I think that while each college or university differs in various ways, the similarities and connections are important.  External forces press across the entire sector, from the demographic transition to shifting political and cultural views of academia.  Moreover, higher education’s senior leaders learn from each other, and so strategies and tactics leap across campus boundaries.  In other words, we should expect to see more of what I’ve noted here.

I also want to take the time to track and share these stories because it seems to me that many discussions leave out the human toll of such cuts.  Cuts blight careers. They cause emotional suffering.  This should be obvious, and yet the discourse around the topic tends to the abstract, the administrative, the more broadly political.

I was reminded of this topic when I received one tweet:

the college I teach for is shutting down, closing its doors June 30th. none of my students are doing the homework and I have no tools left for trying to encourage doing the homework.@BryanAlexander any input? (desperate plea)

— A. Rose 🌹 – (@gothteaching) February 9, 2024


What does it mean for a human being to teach through the end of a job, a department, a program, a campus?  What is it like to be a student working through an academic termination? Why don’t we give more space to these experiences?

More notes:

What I’ve called the queen sacrifice is clearly an active strategic option for at least some of American higher education.  The usual pattern is to identify academic departments with comparatively low numbers of majors or total number of students in classes, then to shrink them in various ways: reducing the range of degrees offered, folding the unit into others, removing faculty and support staff.  The humanities stand out as leading victims in such moves, but are by no means the only victims.

Mergers: note their asymmetry. Typically they involve a relatively healthy and relatively large institution obtaining a comparatively weak one.  We need a better word than merger to express this structural reality – perhaps “acquisition” is worth borrowing from the business world.

Lastly, I have a new book project to announce.  These cuts are crucial evidence for the model I hope to offer.  Watch this space.

PS: are there other accounts you’ve seen and that need attention?  I mean the top-level news but also the human stories.  Please share in comments or, if you’d like to be private, through the contact link on this site.

(thanks to Lee Skallerup-Bessette, George Station, and more friends for stories and conversation; kudos to Inside Higher Ed for staying on these stories)