In the midst of a faculty-led review, Dartmouth is adjusting its portfolio of undergraduate off-campus programs based on shifts in student needs and enrollment, faculty interest in offering opportunities in new locations, and budget considerations, some due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes, which will reduce the number of programs offered each year, come after an analysis by the faculty Committee on Off-Campus Activities (COCA), in which committee members received faculty proposals that offer a distinctive Dartmouth experience and are expected to appeal to a larger number of students, says Dennis Washburn, the associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for interdisciplinary programs.
“Anticipating and adapting to changing student demographics, academic interests, and expectations are essential to solidifying our position of excellence in international study and off-campus programs,” he says. “Dartmouth did not become a leader in foreign study by standing pat.”
The Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education offers a variety of off-campus programs for undergraduates, the most common of which are foreign study programs (FSP) and language study abroad (LSA). These programs are taught around the world by Dartmouth faculty, which is significant, as many universities have agreements with other institutions, whose faculty teach the courses. However, due to the pandemic, off-campus programs have been canceled since spring term of 2020.
The institute, like all departments and divisions across Dartmouth, is faced with having to make budget cuts to address a growing institutional structural budget deficit and additional financial pressures as a result of the pandemic. For the upcoming budget year, which begins on July 1, Guarini’s expense budget, which does not including compensation, has been reduced from the current year’s expense budget by 28%. Looking ahead to the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2022, there is a projected reduction of just 7% from the current year’s expense budget, with projected reductions decreasing further in future years.
Much of the 28% cut is a one-time reduction due, in part, to the anticipated challenge of offering programs in the upcoming budget year because of COVID-19. There are expected to be about 25 programs, fewer than the 40 or so that have been budgeted for in recent years. A number of factors account for the decrease and will make running programs more challenging in the near term, including the availability of vendors with whom Dartmouth has contracted in past years—for services such as classroom rental and housing—some of whom have gone out of business due to the pandemic. There will be additional safety considerations now as well. As a result, it will likely take several years to increase the number of off-campus programs being offered after the pandemic, beyond the 25 expected to be offered at that point.
Program reductions come in the context of declining student interest in existing offerings. Dartmouth is not planning to cut high-enrollment programs, future cuts will be as a result of student interest and program evaluation. Enrollment in off-campus programs has been dropping every decade since a high of almost 800 students studying abroad in 37 programs in the 1980s, when there were about 21 students per program. Through the 1990s-2000s, the average participation rate was roughly 600 students. In 2018-19, there were 500 undergraduates enrolled in 39 study abroad programs in 23 countries, with about 13 students participating in each program.
Demands on students participating in varsity athletics and pre-professional programs, such as pre-med, have made it increasingly challenging for students to take part in off-campus study. In addition, some programs have had to be canceled in the past five years due to lack of interest, while the number of programs has grown. The committee is considering ways to develop new offerings of shorter duration that would be more attractive to students who have not typically participated in a traditional full-term offering.
COCA recommended to the dean and associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that the suite of international study programs be adjusted to offer programs more strongly aligned with student interests and with broader accessibility.
A standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, COCA meets regularly to discuss issues related to the foreign study portfolio. Sitting on the committee are 12 faculty members, including Washburn, three undergraduates, and an assistant undergraduate dean.
The committee considered the following factors in making its recommendation: student enrollment, quality of programs, cost of programs (including costs to students), connection to department and program curricula, and geographic distribution.
Washburn and John Tansey, the executive director of the institute, held more than six informational forums over the course of two years to which faculty and staff were invited to discuss forthcoming off-campus program budget challenges, curricular priorities, and opportunities for innovative programming. Faculty and academic unit chairs were also surveyed twice online or by email. Additional consultation has occurred with individual departments and programs regarding aspects of their off-campus program offerings.
Two years from now, in the 2022-23 academic year, Guarini plans to offer 31 FSPs/LSAs. The adjustment to the portfolio will be accomplished by consolidating some programs, moving others from annual to every-other-year, and eliminating the least popular offerings.
“With faculty input, especially from COCA, we’ve gone through a thoughtful and strategic effort to add programs in new areas of the world and reduce frequency, or in a few cases eliminate, programs where interest is not what it once was,” says Tansey.
He says the institute is working with departments and COCA members to explore adding different types of programs in new destinations.
New off-campus programs include “Green City: Sustainable Engineering in Berlin,” an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of German Studies and Thayer School of Engineering. Other new offerings will have collaborations between departments, for example Russian and government, and short-term credit courses to be held during the winterim period, such as a program in Vietnam offered by Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages Program.
Even with the changes, noted Washburn, “Dartmouth remains the only college or university that offers the breadth and depth of faculty-led international programming that we do.”