By DAN ROBRISH
The Elizabethtown Advocate
Elizabethtown College, which is facing an enrollment drop that is a problem for many colleges and universities, has decided to eliminate majors in theater and philosophy and cut 28 jobs.
Also being eliminated are minors in theater, peace and conflict studies, and film studies. The majors and minors being eliminated have 22 students in them; a college spokeswoman said all will be able to graduate in their majors as declared. Some will graduate before the programs are phased out; the rest will have individualized plans made for them.
Seven faculty jobs are being cut, including three tenured faculty members and one on a tenure track. Those furloughs are effective on July 1, 2020. Another seven non-faculty employees are losing their jobs and 14 vacant positions will not be filled.
Nathan D. Grawe, a professor of economics at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., wrote a book on the problems faced by colleges and universities titled “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.” In short, there was a decline in births a while back, which means there are now fewer people finishing high school for colleges and universities to recruit.
Pennsylvania saw a 4% drop in public high school enrollment from 2011 to 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The lack of students is especially pronounced in northeastern states right now, Grawe said in an interview, but is expected to hit other areas of the nation by the mid-2020s.
“Since the Northeast led the way in low fertility, they’re leading the way in the decline in student numbers,” Grawe said.
Grawe said colleges and universities have varied in how well they have planned for the decrease in demand.
“I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag there,” Grawe said. He said some institutions have had more pressing issues to deal with, such as economic conditions causing the value of an endowment to drop for causing donations to drop.
However, he said there is an increasing recognition that the pool of prospective students is dropping or at least that it is no longer growing.
Grawe said there is a risk in cutting academic programs.
“If you eliminate programs, you can then compound the problem,” he said, noting that having fewer academic programs can mean students will decide to go elsewhere. But he said many colleges and universities have little choice but to do so.
“There are times when the institution has to be realistic. … Many institutions have to confront the possibility that it may not be possible simply to recruit harder or recruit better,” Grawe said.
Elizabethtown College spokeswoman Keri Straub described the process to decide what to cut in an email message.
“The process for reviewing the academic programs included an analysis of current enrollment, the program’s capacity for growth, market demand and the cost to administer each program. Based on the results, each program was assessed for future viability,” Straub wrote.
The decision was not taken before the college’s Faculty Assembly. Straub said that is not part of the process outlined in the college’s faculty handbook.
As for the future of college theater, the college president’s office posted answers to frequently asked questions on its website saying things would continue as planned for the 2019-20 academic year. Starting in the fall of 2020, the college “will be engaging outside support,” the posting said, but did not specify what that would entail.
Reaction by theater alumni was among the most active online. A Facebook group called Elizabethtown College Theatre Artists formed in reaction to the announcement. Theater alumni noted that the program benefited not just students who majored and minored in theater, but many more who found a sense of belonging on campus from their participation in theatrical productions.
Class of 2007 alumna Amanda Brunish posted a copy of a message she sent to the college in the Facebook group. In it, she wrote that she chose a double major in communications and theater not because she wanted to go into professional acting, but for other benefits that have helped her in her career: “I excel at presentations where others struggle, I am able to compose myself in tense situations – to name a very few instances,” Brunish wrote.
Nick Loschiavo wrote in the Facebook group about how theater helped him adjust to college life.
“I remember my first two weeks of college vividly. I remember … not being able to make a single friend, let alone a connection,” Loschiavo wrote. “I called my parents every day and told them I wanted to come home and that college was not for me. I couldn’t comprehend the fact that I felt so lonely and that making a friend was such a challenge. My mom and dad kept tellingme to stay strong and wait for the auditionsfor the fall play. So I went and auditioned
and that’s when everything changed.”
Loschiavo went on to describe meeting many people who became dear friends.
“This was the moment that it all clicked,” he wrote. “I got two shots in the arm during this experience. One was the adrenaline of being in my first college production. The other was a mixture of confidence and love that the people in the theater department gave to me. … I would not be the person I am today without the experience of having grown as a person and that is all thanks to my experience in the theater. Sure the administration might say that this decision will only make 1% of the school population suffer. As much as I am upset by this I also have found a positive. That 1% of Etown Theater experience, family, and love completed my transformation 100% into the person that I am today. I am very proud of that.”