Making the best of limited options

More is not always better.

This aphorism holds true for the decision by the University of Calgary (U of C) to cut nineteen programs from its roster. Arts students will have eleven fewer programs to choose from while their science counterparts will see a loss of seven areas of study. The faculty of kinesiology brings up the rear with the loss of one program.

It is easy to look at the rollback of university programs and see an institution that doesn’t care about its students and is looking only to save costs. But that is a flawed way to view the issue. U of C has made the difficult decision to do away with programs with chronic low enrolment, a decision that will allow university resources to be spent in other, more important areas.

As reported by the Calgary Herald, Raphael Jacob, president of the U of C students’ union, recognizes the need for these cuts, but also said that having fewer options limits the quality of education one can receive. His position misses the fact that fewer but better programs are always preferable to a plethora of programs with low enrolment.

The programs in question have only had up to five students enrolled over the past five years. This is an extremely low number of students even for a small university like Mount Allison. For a university with an enrolment close to 30,000, spending precious resources offering programs that less than one percent of students take is a waste of time and money.

Wasteful programs should go the way of the Dodo, rather than sponge university resources. The fact of the matter is that students have the right to have the quality of their education maximized, given the massive amount of money it costs to obtain an undergraduate degree.

This move will allow the university to focus more attention on programs that have hundreds of students rather than programs that have a number that can be counted on one hand. In the words of Mister Spock, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.

Keeping programs alive that draw little or no interest is blatantly wasteful. And in the current age of austerity, waste is the last thing that we need. All around the globe countries are having to make difficult choices on what is most important and what needs to be cut from the public budget. The government of Alberta announced in its spring budget that it would be cutting $147 million in funding for post-secondary education. This has left universities in Alberta scrambling to make up the shortfall. I am of the opinion that since the provincial government is forcing U of C to make cuts, the university should cut programs that will impact the least amount of students, which it has.

The university is trying to play innocent, saying that the cuts are unconnected to budget concerns. The government of Alberta has made a foolish mistake in cutting its funding to post-secondary education, but U of C has taken this curveball smartly and is cutting programs that will be missed by few. The university needs to save its money and is doing so in a fashion that will not significantly affect the vast majority of its students.

It is good to allow things to die a natural death. Rather than keeping these nineteen programs on life support as a token show of academic diversity, U of C has done the right thing, letting them slip into that good night. These moves also have the benefit of freeing up space for new programs to be created, programs that could be fresh, exciting, and appealing to larger numbers of students.

In reality, these cuts will not affect the quality of education at the school and could even improve it by releasing university resources to be used more effectively.

Students at the University  of Calgary need not fear that the quality of their education will be impacted by these cuts. In the age of austerity, U of C has made the best of very limited options.

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