Low Enrollment Puts Programs at Risk

Andrea Currie

Staff Writer

Not every program created by Hudson Valley is successful.

On the Hudson Valley website’s “Programs” page, 18 programs are listed as “deactivated.” Several more programs are slated for deactivation by Fall 2015. Why?

In short, programs are deactivated because they are no longer economically viable. But the reasons for declining economic viability are as varied as the programs themselves.

The process for curriculum changes is long and complex. Christine Helwig, associate dean of educational outreach and academic services, said, “You can change the content of a course less than 25% and you don’t have to go through the process.” Otherwise, “you do.”

The process begins at the departmental level, with discussions among faculty, who then talk to the department chair, who speaks with the dean, who speaks with the Vice President for Academic Affairs. The proposed changes then go to the Curriculum Committee, a subcommittee of the Academic Senate, for approval and recommendation. After this, the Board of Trustees reviews the changes. Finally, all degree changes and deactivations go to the State Education Department and SUNY for approval.

The entire process typically takes several months. For example, if a program goes to committee in September or October, “we could be offering that in the spring,” Helwig said.

Low enrollment

Hudson Valley’s Gallery Management program was deactivated in Fall 2013, with just one Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) student enrolled after just six years in existence. Dorothy Reynolds, the program’s chairperson, said, “The program was created to capitalize on the existence of the Teaching Gallery” as “a nice marriage between fine arts and the gallery.” Participating in the Gallery Management program “makes [students] more fully educated in the field of art. They’re not just making it, they’re learning how to exhibit it.”

The program was launched in Fall 2007, and when healthy, had roughly “20 students a semester. But then the recession hit,” Reynolds said. “Art venues were losing funding … It was less obvious what kind of work students could get.”

The college administration suggested looking at the program, and in Fall 2012, a deactivation proposal went to the Curriculum Committee for review. “It wasn’t my decision or Tara’s decision, it was the college’s,” Reynolds said. Tara Fracalossi is the director of the Teaching Gallery.

Reynolds took pains to highlight the degree of collaboration between college faculty and administration, however. She said, “If a program is not meeting enrollment goals, they ask, ‘What’s going on?’”

High enrollment, low compatibility

Hudson Valley’s Broadcast Communications program, which Reynolds also chairs, is still listed on the Hudson Valley website, but Reynolds confirmed that it will soon disappear: “In late June 2014, the deactivation was accepted at the State University.”

Unlike the Gallery Management program, the Broadcast Communications program had high enrollment at the time of deactivation, she said. “In fall of ’13 … we had about 80 students total, first and second year.”

The program, which began accepting students in Fall 2001, made structural changes in 2011, “based on changes that were supposed to take place at The New School [of Radio and Television, in Albany, which partnered with Hudson Valley to offer the program] … in order to continue to receive our academic accreditation and to comply with” federal and state aid requirements, Reynolds said, but The New School “concluded at the end of Fall 2013 that they were not going to be able to make those structural changes.”

The students “loved” the program, she said. “We had to make a tough decision, but it was a choice done for the overall standing of the college.”

Falling economic demand

Technical programs are also among the list of recently deactivated programs. The Automotive Technical Services: General Motors program was deactivated in Fall 2013; the similar Automotive Technical Services: Chrysler program was deactivated in Fall 2014, with a projected enrollment of just two FTE students.

Kennedy said that the deactivation was “driven by the corporate partner,” which “didn’t see the demand for that [program] any longer in our market.” He added, “GM was going through some tough times.”

The programs’ chairperson, Anthony Kossmann, was unavailable for an interview before press time.

The Plant Utilities Technology program was deactivated in Fall 2013, when just three FTE students were enrolled. Helwig said that “it wasn’t a huge program when we had it to begin with” and that there were “not enough jobs in our region to get students enrolled.”

Richard Porter, the programs’ chairperson, explained further: “PUT was designed at the request of New York State,” which was looking for stationary engineers, “somebody with the expertise to run a boiler plant.”

Such positions, he said, have little turnover. “We had a grant nine or ten years ago for the big Athens plant,” Athens Generating, which attracted more students to the program, but “when the money dried up, it trickled back down to one or two [students per semester] again.” At that point, Porter said, the college was well below number of students needed to break even, so it deactivated the program.

Porter also chairs the Wind Technician Certificate program, which is listed in the 2014–2015 program guide, but has “never run at all. We’ve never had enough people.” He said, “The only class that ran off that list [of program courses] was the Intro to Wind,” which was offered to high school students.

The program was aimed at people who had “graduated from our Electrical Construction program or from Delhi,” but this more rigorous requirement, coupled with the lack of local wind technician positions, made the program unfeasible. Jiminy Peak, in Vermont, is the closest option, but “they’re only going to have 2 to 3 guys for 11 wind turbines.”

Porter said that “if it ever ran, we’d have to make it entry level” and added that he and the program’s other faculty intended to rework the program. “We’d have to send [the revised proposal] through CC [Curriculum Committee], but there was so much on the docket” last year that they held off, he said. “It’s on the back burner for now, but it’ll get done eventually.”

Restructuring for the future

Porter explained that the State Education Department, which with SUNY has final approval over curriculum changes, has “been a little more stringent over the last few years. We have to have some goal. Some hiring goal,” including “letters from employers saying that there is a demand” for graduates of the proposed program.

Porter said that the department was also considering restructuring its Photovoltaic Installation Certificate program, which is fewer than 12 credits per semester and is thus ineligible for financial aid: “We may have to rework that one so that people get financial aid.”

Kennedy emphasized that Hudson Valley’s “mission is to be responsible to our community,” and often, when one program is deactivated, the college “introduce[s] something that’s more current.” Kennedy and Helwig both said that program changes are based on workplace changes.

Helwig used the dental assisting program as an example of the college’s responsiveness to economic conditions: “Quite a while ago, we used to have a dental assisting program,” but when demand decreased, the program “fell by the wayside” and was deactivated until demand increased enough that “it became in the best interest of the community” to offer it again, she said.

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