A Message to the Community
August 15, 2018
Dear Goucher Community,
As many of you know, Goucher College is experiencing a period of great change. We have three new buildings opening this fall, designed with student success and engagement in mind. At the same time, like many of our peer institutions, Goucher has engaged in a program prioritization process to strengthen the entire academic program and support the evolving interests of our students. Last fall we launched an innovative and highly-praised new general education curriculum and this fall we will continue that process by looking at how we can enhance some majors, reconfigure or create other majors, and gradually phase out others. All returning students, as well as those starting in Fall 2018, will be able to graduate from Goucher with a degree in any of the majors we currently offer. When students arrive on campus, faculty and staff will be available to answer questions, address concerns, and advise, but the choice and completion of a students’ major should NOT be impacted by this process. These changes are part of our continued strategy to prioritize the student experience.
It was a very difficult decision to reduce our number of majors, but we started by looking at the majors students said they wanted and the majors they actually completed. A large group of faculty met extensively throughout the summer to look at data on which courses had waiting lists and which were chronically undersubscribed. It was determined that we were offering some large, over-crowded majors where we need more faculty and courses, and other majors where student interest had waned and classes were routinely being cancelled because too few students had signed up.
Program prioritization in response to student interests and needs is a routine part of the life of any college. Student interests change, partly in response to how the world changes. One hundred years ago, Goucher (like most colleges) offered (or even required) Latin, Greek, and Theology courses and there were no computer science or environmental studies courses. German was the most popular modern language and virtually no institution offered Arabic or Chinese. The English major was still relatively new.
We will be investing in some of our largest majors and reconfiguring others. Also, faculty are already working on new interdisciplinary combinations that might be created both to be more appealing to students and to leverage our continuing expertise in social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and international studies, for which Goucher is so well-known. An example of this positive and well-received evolutionary change was the decision to modify the general education requirement from “math” to “data-analytics.” In the coming months, students will be asked about what new interdisciplinary and more customized programs we might add, and for feedback on proposals being developed.
A college education in the United States now costs more than the vast majority of families can afford to pay. Goucher’s ongoing commitment to access and affordability has meant that over the past several years we have steadily lowered the amount students actually pay. This has been accomplished through increases in financial aid offered to students and last year’s bold decision to become one of the very few colleges ever to have frozen tuition.
To continue to make a Goucher education more affordable, we must continue to lower our costs. Over the past four years, cuts were made in administrative, faculty, and staff costs, and by using new technology to save money, we were able to cut the operating budget several years in a row. In keeping with our student-focused strategy, we chose not to reduce student support services, and we have, in fact, added our Center for Race, Equity, and Identity, the Office of Accessibility Services, and enhanced the Student Support and Outreach Office (formerly case management), and continue to add student programming. This fall we will introduce a new Wellness and Recreation program, and also move the Student Counseling Center to a new, larger, and vastly-improved space on campus.
Despite many competitors shifting away from a traditional liberal arts model, Goucher remains almost uniquely committed to being a modern liberal arts college. We have long resisted the temptation to adopt more of the vocational programs currently in vogue with segments of the American public. Any new programs we offer will be interdisciplinary and in the liberal arts tradition. We have chosen this path carefully and strategically.
As a liberal arts college, we will continue to offer robust math and physics courses to prepare students for careers in science, computer science, and medicine, but very few students were interested in them as stand-alone majors. Our plans for a new Science Research Center addition to Hoffberger will continue and, in 2019, we will begin construction of much-needed new lab space for biology, chemistry, and environmental science.
The arts will also continue to be an essential pillar of the liberal arts at Goucher. The vast majority of the students who participate in theater, music, and art activities on our campus, in classes, performances, exhibitions, and in concerts, do not actually major in those fields. We may even add more activities, opportunities, and ensembles, based upon student interest. Dance is one of the largest majors on campus, and we have recently seen increased interest in film, digital art, and creative writing. Our performing and creative arts departments are also already working on programming that will be both more interdisciplinary and more individualized to student needs. Many recent graduates designed their own individualized majors in these fields, and we will continue to offer that option and respond to changing student needs with new programs.
Again, ALL current and incoming first-year students will be able to graduate from Goucher with their intended major. Still, we know some will be disappointed. I am truly sorry for the consequences of these necessary decisions. We will do everything we can to keep disruption to a minimum, but it is imperative that resources are allocated in ways that best support as many students as possible. There is no financial crisis; in fact, after a very thorough review this summer, the Standard and Poors (S&P) retained its “A-“ bond rating for Goucher. Raising costs and continuing to increase the number of options per student, however, is no longer a possibility. We are determined to offer the best education for a price more people can afford.
I am confident that we are moving forward in a positive direction for the College, and thank you for your patience and support during this time.
José Bowen, President