Saint Mary’s in Winona to phase out 11 under-enrolled majors, lay off 13 faculty members

Saint Mary's University
(Photo from Saint Mary's University website)

WINONA, Minn. (WKBT) — Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota plans to consolidate academic areas and reduce undergraduate majors amid financial constraints and escalating competition for declining numbers of students.

The university informed students and staff Tuesday that it will phase out 11 under-enrolled majors over the next few years in moves that will also result in laying off 13 faculty members, according to a news release.

The administration made the decision after a substantial review of low-enrolled majors, in consultation with undergraduate faculty members, the release said.

“The time to re-envision our future is now,” said the Rev. James P. Burns, Saint Mary’s president. “Higher education is experiencing major disruption, exacerbated by the pandemic and declining number of high school students.

“In this climate, few schools can continue business as usual,” Burns said.

Saint Mary’s, a private Catholic institution, enrolls nearly 5,000 students between its undergraduate campus in Winona and through its bachelor completion, and graduate and professional programs in Minneapolis and Rochester, Minn., as well as online.

The university also cited the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic and declining birth rates.

The number of Americans attending college has dropped by 1 million since the pandemic began, the release said. In addition, researchers say the total could rise as high as 3 million during the next 10 years, largely because of lower birth rates across the U.S.

In Minnesota, total undergraduate enrollment has plunged by almost a third to levels last seen in the late 1990s, according to the state Office of Higher Education.

“We want to provide students with programs that are in demand, have a high potential for growth, and that many want to pursue now,” Burns said.

The university is attempting to align its offerings with its mission, Burns said, to answer the question: “How can we best prepare our students for work, for a life of ethical service, to pursue the greater good and the truth in all things while answering their questions about meaning and purpose?

“The goal is for our graduates to excel in their early careers, become future leaders in their fields, and use their special gifts to impact humanity,” he said.

The new program portfolio is concentrated in business, technology and the sciences.

Undergraduate programs to be phased out over the next several years include:

  • Actuarial science
  • Art
  • English
  • History
  • Human Services
  • International Business
  • Music
  • Music Industry
  • Spanish
  • Theater
  • Theology

Students currently enrolled in these programs will be able to complete their degrees, the university said.

The changes will affect 13 full-time faculty members beginning in the 2023-24 academic year, according to the university news release, adding that the advance planning will provide a transition for students and faculty.

“Having to lay off high quality faculty is a true loss and will be felt across the university,” Burns said. “Decisions that impact the lives of our faculty are difficult and are not made lightly.”

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