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Iowa State Daily

Programs in LAS find varying degrees of success regarding ‘Reimagining LAS’ budget cuts

Iowa State’s Beardshear Hall was named in honor of William Beardshear, the president of Iowa State from 1892 to 1902.

Two years into the Reimagining LAS initiative, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) deficit has decreased from $11.4 million to $7.4 million. With one year left in the initiative, LAS Dean Beate Schmittmann hopes to make up for the rest by introducing new programs called Degrees of the Future. 

In early 2022, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced a multi-year budget optimization initiative. After enrollment numbers declined from 2018 to 2023, Reimagining LAS aimed to adjust the LAS budget in response to changes in enrollment numbers and the demands of future and current students.  

At the start of the fall 2021 semester, LAS had a budget deficit of $11.4 million, relative to a $105 million operating budget, which is expected to grow to $15 million by fall 2025.  

Degrees of the Future is a $1.5 million initiative that will create new degree programs that address student and workforce demands, according to an announcement by the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost on April 27.  

“We call them the Degrees of the Future because we think these are the ones that are really speaking to the students of today and hopefully the students for the next 10 to 20 years,” Schmittmann said.  

Several of the new degrees are in the College of LAS and include: 

  • Digital storytelling with a lead department of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication 
  • Game design with a lead department of community and regional planning 
  • Integrated health sciences with lead departments of genetics, development and cell biology and food science and human nutrition 
  • Master of finance and technology (FinTech) with lead departments of finance and computer science 

Several other new degrees have been introduced in other colleges aside from LAS. 

“We’re hoping that growth from these programs will help us cover the remaining gap between where we are today and where we really need to be going forward,” Schmittmann said.  

While some smaller majors were eliminated, many departments were given reduced budget targets and developed plans for achieving those goals over three years. Some majors received cuts near 5%, while others received cuts upwards of 25%, according to Reimagining LAS department budget targets

While some LAS programs have successfully met their budget-cut goals, others find themselves struggling as the needs of their departments have changed.  

One of the departments that received a cut of 25% was the department of philosophy and religious studies, according to Reimagining LAS department budget targets.  

​​A year prior, the department lost several professors who taught nearly 20% of student credit hours combined, according to Department Chair Heimir Geirsson. When Schmittmann announced the Reimagining LAS initiative, Geirsson said it was a “back-to-back hit.”

After losing several professors, the department had already worked to improve the efficiency of the programs by increasing introductory-level class sizes. Many programs, like the department of English, met their goals by increasing class sizes, which was no longer an option for the department of philosophy and religious studies.  

“When it comes to the humanities, they only have people. So everything is caught up in salary, and the way to meet the target is basically to reduce the faculty,” Geirsson said.  

Some new degrees require courses in the philosophy and religious studies department.  

“On the one hand, we have a 25% cut, and then on the other hand, we have Degrees of the Future, and we are involved in those projects. And they call for an increased number of faculty and increased teaching,” Geirsson said. “So, Reimagine [LAS] wants us to go smaller, and then the new courses that have been introduced take us in a different direction.” 

The class, moral issues in medicine, will be a part of the integrated health sciences degree.

Biomedical engineering is one of the new majors, and students need to take one of two philosophy courses, either moral issues in medicine or bioethics and biotechnology. 

A new university-wide artificial intelligence minor is starting this upcoming fall, and one of the philosophy faculty members is developing a required course on AI and ethics.

The university enrollment numbers have decreased over the past several years, and that trend aligns with the philosophy and religious studies department numbers.  

 According to fact books published by the Office of the Registrar, undergraduate enrollment decreased from 29,621 in fall 2018 to 25,332 in fall 2023.  

The department of philosophy and religious studies had a combined undergraduate enrollment of 32 students in fall 2018, which decreased to 19 in fall 2023.  

According to the Iowa State University FY2024 legislative budget, the department of philosophy and religious studies total direct expenses is $1,933,412.   

 While departments such as history and philosophy and religious studies saw more severe budget cuts, departments like English saw smaller cuts of roughly $558,689, according to Reimagining LAS department budget targets. While significantly smaller than other budget cuts, the department still felt disappointed.

“What’s important to realize is that we are a very efficient department; we produce way more resources and money than we cost,” said Department Head Volker Hegelheimer. “We make them a lot of money, so to speak, yet, we got cut quite a bit. So I felt disappointed.” 

The English department took a four-pronged approach in terms of trying to meet the budget cut goals of 7.5%. English was one of the few departments to completely get rid of a major, which was the speech communication major. Additionally, the department increased enrollment caps for students in the advanced communication courses.  

The English department reduced its size by attrition; eight tenure-track faculty separated from the institution, either by retirement or taking a job elsewhere.  

Lastly, as part of the four-prong approach to meet goals, there was a permanent reduction in the courses offered.  

According to Hegelheimer, the English department achieved their target goals a year before they anticipated. Similar to the philosophy and religious studies department, the English department has also seen a decrease in enrollment numbers.  

 In fall 2018, the English department had 241 undergraduate students; in fall 2023, the department had 159.

Schmittmann is retiring in the summer of 2024 after serving 12 years at Iowa State as the dean of LAS. Benjamin Withers from Colorado State University will take her place as dean starting April 15 to continue with the rest of the Reimagine LAS initiative.

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    Kim | Apr 10, 2024 at 10:54 am

    Isn’t Community and Regional Planning under College of Design?